Thank Goodness for Mariota

Mathew Topolewski FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Featured image courtesy of the Fiesta Bowl.

The NCAA recruiting class of 2011 has provided some spectacular quarterbacks. In fact, as writer Jeff Bell indicates, this class may “ultimately be remembered for producing the best group of quarterbacks the college football world has seen in quite some time.” Bell then notes a number of players he believes have the potential for having the brightest future in the NFL. Topping his list are names like Braxton Miller at Ohio State, Kevin Hogan out of Stanford and, of course, Johnny Football over at Texas A&M. While there does exist some amazing talent among this group, I would have to disagree with Mr. Bell’s statement regarding one of these players whose college football career almost took place here at Oregon. That’s right, the Heisman Trophy winner himself, Johnny Manziel.

Johnny Manziel partying at a club and holding a bottle of Dom Perignon

Johnny Manziel partying at a club and holding a bottle of Dom Perignon

A little over a year ago Manziel visited Eugene on his first recruitment trip. Although holding tremendous respect for former Oregon Coach Chip Kelley, ultimately the young quarterback wished to stay closer to home and family in Texas. Well, I’m here to say thank goodness because, despite achieving a great deal of success this past season, Manziel has failed to accept the responsibility that accompanies his high profile position.  He routinely finds himself in one mess after another that all prove detrimental to his reputation, future draft stock and to Texas A&M as an institution.

Manning Passing Academy LogoThe most recent act of poor form demonstrated by the Heisman Trophy winner came last weekend while at the Manning Passing Academy. Manziel reportedly overslept, felt “dehydrated”, missed a coaches meeting and was finally asked to leave the camp. Regardless of what he was up to the night before, the main issue here is his inability to carry himself like an adult and meet a commitment.

But okay, he just overslept right? It’s not like he ever sent out multiple tweets hatting on his University, or appeared in inappropriate photos and video drinking alcohol. Or worse, ever been arrested and given a misdemeanor for failing to properly identify himself to police after getting into a fight outside a bar. Oh wait… that’s awkward. Manziel’s main excuse for these mistakes is that he is just a 20 year old sophomore in college. But Johnny Football is not in a position were the plea of “normalcy” is part of the rhetoric. Most 20 year old college students aren’t playing sports at a Division 1 school, let alone in the spotlight as a star quarterback with Heisman credentials. Whether Manziel likes it or not he’s held to a much higher standard as a role model, an ambassador for his school and, not to mention, being constantly watched by his future employer, the NFL.

Johnny Football (far left) partying with some bros in Cabo San Lucas.

Johnny Football (far left) partying with some bros in Cabo San Lucas.

Barring a complete disaster, Manziel plans on declaring for the NFL Draft after next season. If that’s the case, I would disagree with Bell’s estimation of Johnny Football’s bright future.  In this writer’s opinion Manziel is a whirlwind of liability, mistakes, immaturity and simply needs time to develop as a person before attempting anything professionally.  He so far has been unable to represent his team or himself appropriately.

Manziel’s decision not to attend Oregon, however, opened the door to another quarterback from the 2011 recruiting class; our very own Marcus Mariota. Initially listed as the 123rd ranked quarterback in his class, Mariota and the Heisman winner share many similarities in skill. Both players combine explosive breakaway speed and athleticism with deadly passing accuracy. Heck, they’re almost identical in height, weight and even completion percentage (in 2012 Manziel was 68.0%, Mariota was 68.5%). So in terms of “on-the-field” aspects, Mariota is just as good as – and in many cases better than – the Heisman trophy winner.

Marcus Mariota waiting for a snap during the Arkansas State game.

Marcus Mariota waiting for a snap during the Arkansas State game.

However, unlike Manziel, Mariota combines his talents with decision making and intelligence. As a quarterback running Oregon’s offense, Mariota is allowed minimal time to read the defense and decide whether to pass, hand off or keep the ball. He has done this with lethal precision. But he’s no mindless jock either. For example, his junior year of high school Mariota wasn’t even the starter. However, in just two years he was able to impress the Oregon coaching staff, garner a scholarship and then conquer the most fast paced and difficult offense in college football as a redshirt. This led to his acquisition of the starting job. Now that takes some quick learning and mad intelligence.

Mariota running out of the tunnel at the beginning of the Arkansas State game.

Mariota (center) running out of the tunnel at the beginning of Oregon’s game against Arkansas State.

Mariota’s qualities further transcend the field and are demonstrated in his everyday life. He is frequently described as being a “friendly soul” whose cool, calm, focused demeanor has a palpable calming affect on teammates. As Chip Kelly told Aaron Fentress of, Mariota is “a laid back dude. He’s the same all the time. I think it’s a real admirable quality to have his consistency with his approach.” These characteristics have ultimately allowed Mariota to obtain a 12-1 record, a Fiesta Bowl championship and most importantly, the resounding respect of his teammates as a leader.

Marcus Mariota walking out of the tunnel at Washington State's Martin Stadium.

Marcus Mariota walking out of the tunnel at Century Link Field against Washington State.

In other words, Mariota is not the type of guy who is going to involve himself in a fight outside a bar, tweet nasty things about his school, fail to meet commitments or generally behave immaturely. Rather, this is a kid who has fully accepted and embraced the responsibilities that come with such a publicly scrutinized and revered position. In the end, we are so incredibly lucky to have a quarterback like Mariota instead of Manziel. Statistically, Mariota is just as good as the Heisman trophy winner yet his personal character is lightyears ahead. For that matter, his character and calm are well ahead of any typical 20 year old. Thank goodness for Mariota who is effectively representing Oregon as a premier institution. He has already shown the many traits needed for a bright future in the NFL, whenever that time may come.



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