I got to spend some time talking with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota as the Ducks began preparations for the Fiesta Bowl last week in Eugene. Mariota took over as starting quarterback for Darron Thomas this year and became the first freshman to earn All-Pac 12 honors since USC’s Todd Marinovich in 1989. Mariota, a Honolulu native, is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and has thrown for 2,511 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also rushed for 690 yards and 4 touchdowns. Oregon and Kansas State square off in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 on ESPN, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
TA: Will you tell me a little bit about your life, your family and where you grew up?
MM: I grew up right outside of Honolulu with my brother and two parents, went to an all-boys Catholic school for high school … I really cherished getting to grow up where I did. We realize every day the sun is shining on your face and just to walk outside into this unbelievably beautiful setting is something that everyone that lives (in Hawaii) is grateful for.
TA: What are your parents like? Who put the ball in your crib?
MM: (Laughing) That would be my father. He introduced me to the game at a very, very young age. I remember watching a game with him, Dallas Cowboys against the Washington Redskins, when I was four or five years old and my memory of that day, of watching it with him is so vivid. Dallas won and has been my favorite team ever since … you could say that’s the day football had me hooked. My mom doesn’t understand the game that well but she knows it makes me happy, so it makes her happy. She’s incredibly supportive of me.
TA: What was your recruitment like? I’ve heard some crazy stories that sound almost made up, like that (Oregon offensive coordinator) Mark Helfrich saw you warming up on the sideline before practice, before you were even a starter, and offered you a scholarship.
MM: It didn’t exactly happen like that. One of my coaches sent some film to Oregon, Coach Helfrich came and watched me practice going into my senior year, saw something he liked and went back to (Oregon head coach) Chip Kelly and a couple of weeks later, Coach Kelly offered me a scholarship. It was kind of crazy because I hadn’t started a varsity game yet, but for myself it was also a neat time because the University of Memphis had also already offered me a scholarship. When I went to Eugene, I felt right at home. It’s a laid-back place, very similar to where I’m from except for the weather.
TA: So you commit to Oregon, along with another quarterback in your same class in Johnny Manziel, who we all know now. You guys went to a camp together at Oregon before your senior year, so will you tell me what you remember about Manziel and about that week at camp? Was it competitive between the two of you?
MM: He was a great guy and somebody that really stood out doing drills and stuff like that, so I’m not really surprised at all the success he had. We were doing all the same drills, but the fact of the matter was I didn’t know who he was and he didn’t know who I was. I think we were both trying to match up and do the best we could, so I wouldn’t say we were necessarily competitive with each other, just two players trying to stand out.
TA: You’ve had to come out of a lot of games early this season because your team was up by so much. Is that frustrating at all for you?
MM: Not at all. Not even a little bit. If I’m the starter and I’m out of the game for that reason then we’re doing something right. Quite frankly, we’ve got a whole bunch of guys that come to practice and work just as hard as I do and they deserve to show people what they can do. I’m never mad at other guys getting opportunities to play. We want them ready to get in there and execute the game plan.
TA: What do you see when you look at Kansas State’s defense? What do they do well?
MM: It’s hard to try to mirror a defense like this because they’re so disciplined and the fact that they’re in the right spots almost all of the time. We have to take care of all of our Xs and Os to make sure we can match that, to make sure we put people in the right spots.