Respect for Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota oozes out of Pac-12 media day

Mariota on why he returned to school

Respect for Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota oozes out of Pac-12 media day
July 24, 2014, 4:00 pm
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LOS ANGELES – Maybe nobody at Pac-12 Media Day knows Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota better than Colorado defensive end Juda Parker.

The senior played high school football with Mariota at St. Louis School in Honolulu, Hawaii.

To hear Parker tell it, what you see is what you get from Mariota. Nothing phony. No hidden agenda. No secret demons. Just an unassuming man blessed with great talent who cares about those around him and is intent on remaining grounded.

“He’s the same way that you see him in interviews and around campus,” Parker said. “He’s a very humble guy, very level headed. All of the accolades accomplishments that he’s received, they are well deserved.”

On one hand, Parker’s comments could be taken as merely those of a friend.

But although Parker knows Mariota best, his view of him was echoed numerous times throughout the two-day event when other Pac-12 players were asked about the Heisman Trophy candidate and likely future NFL first-round pick.

Mariota was clearly the most accomplished and recognizable star at the two-day Pac-12 event. The two-time All-Pac-12 selection is set to break every meaningful passing record in Oregon history before receiving millions of dollars to play professionally.

But you’d never know it by his unassuming demeanor. He’s the anti-Johnny Manziel. He’s about team first, self promotion dead last, or not even on the list.

Soft-spoken star

Mariota’s humility is so striking that several rival players when asked about the quarterback as a player responded first by praising him as a person.

“I hadn’t actually met him until this summer at the Peyton Manning camp,” Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion said today. “Got to know him. He’s a real laidback guy. It was great to spend some time with him for the first time and get to know him. I was really impressed. He’s a really good guy.”

The saccharine used by many when discussing Mariota could give an innocent bystander instant tooth decay.

But it’s sincere, even from unlikely sources like defensive players.

“Love him,” Utah defensive end Nate Orchard said Wednesday. “He’s a great guy. Had a chance to see him here and talk to him a little bit.”

Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said Mariota most certainly was raised well.

“You would think that at least a little bit of these things would get to him,” he said of the attention Mariota receives. “And it doesn’t seem to have any effect on him.”

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is 2-0 against Mariota thanks mainly to his team’s defense, which has limited the superstar to producing just four offensive touchdowns in two losses to the Cardinal. Both defeats, coming in 2012 and 2013, cost Oregon shots at reaching the BCS National Championship game.

Hogan said what struck him about Mariota following last year’s 26-20 Stanford win in Stanford was how a disappointed Mariota sought him out to offer his congratulations.

“He was very gracious in defeat, came up and congratulated me,” Hogan said. “That’s a tough thing to do in such big games.”

Hogan, like Mannion, got to know Mariota better at the Peyton Manning Passing Academy. He compared Mariota’s persona with that of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.

“I think it’s a testament to how his coaches handle him and how he was raised,” Hogan said of Mariota. “He definitely has great parents, keeping him grounded. He’s just a really down to earth guy…I kind of got to see it with Andrew a few years ago. It’s good to see. It makes you happy to see guys like that.”

Devastating talent

None of the “good guy” praise makes opponents want to beat him any less.

“I love him off the field, but on the field, we want to hurt him,” Utah’s Orchard said with a sinister smile. “Want to make him pay.”

Washington’s Kikaha feels the same.

“I don’t want to kill him, but (my opinion of him) doesn’t won’t change my pass rushing,” he said.

Getting to, or defeating Mariota, is easier said than done.

Mariota is 23-3 as a starter. Arizona is the only other team to defeat the Ducks during his run.

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday said each Pac-12 quarterback has a trait that might be better than most others in the conference. But all-around, he said, Mariota has to be considered the best in the conference, if not the country.

“It kind of depends on now you want to answer that question and how you want to break that down, but overall football talent, it’s got to be Marcus,” Halliday said.

Mannion said he’s been impressed by Mariota’s level-headedness on the field.

“He’s always kind of a steady hand for them,” Mannion said. “He’s obviously a great athlete and a great football player, that jumps off the tape at you. But to me he seems like a calming presence for their team.”

Defensive players struggle with Mariota’s combination of intelligence, accuracy and running ability.

“He’s so agile in the pocket, as well as other quarterbacks in the conference, but what separates him from the rest is his vision down the field,” Orchard said. “His eyes. What he sees in defenses is very special. It’s unique.”

Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe said he once made the mistake of underestimating Mariota’s speed because of his 6-foot-4 frame and long legs.

“He’s deceptively fast,” Monroe said. “I really didn’t know how fast he was until my freshman year when I had a chance to sack him twice but missed because I didn’t know how fast he was. But I got him on the third one.”

Monroe, Parker and OSU linebacker Michael Doctor all said that patience is key with Mariota because of his intelligence.

Parker said Mariota has approached the game cerebrally since the two played Pop Warner youth football together back in Hawaii.

And he doesn’t panic. He will go through all of his progressions before bailing the pocket and unleashing that speed.  

“He can scramble for 10 yards in a blink,” Doctor said.

All three defenders said that once Mariota is on the move he becomes scarier because he rarely simply commits to running, but instead continues to look downfield for open receivers.

“He’s a guy that you can’t come at reckless against,” Monroe said. “You have to come in and respect his ability to run and throw the ball.”

Parker had a chance to sack Mariota last season but narrowly missed.

“He threw the ball as I tackled him to the ground,” Parker lamented. “It was close. I’m going to try to get him this year.”

If hit happens: “I’d probably give him an extra nudge on his chest and say we’re going to talk about this after the game, and smile at him and celebrate with my team,” Parker said.

Stealth jokester

Parker said that he has tried numerous times to get Mariota to talk about himself with no success.

Instead, Mariota seeks to deflect praise, or ignores the attention, regardless of the glare of the setting. But he does have a jokester side to him.

“He likes to get things going when he’s comfortable,” Parker said. “You’ve got to get him comfortable first. He’ll open up a little bit.”

Parker credits Mariota’s parents, Alana and Toa, for their son’s demeanor.

“I’ve met his family and been to his house and they are just really respectable people and nice folks,” Parker said.

That, coupled with the general laidback environment of Hawaii, has created a rare superstar who seeks to avoid publicity, not embrace it.

“The stage is never too big for him,” Parker said. “He never gets too big headed about things, and I guess that’s how he can do great things and still have a smile on his face.”