John Baker

Mariota Brings Hawaiian Cool To Oregon, Pressures Of Heisman

Created on Jun. 24, 2014 7:25 AM EST

As the heat of summer breaks across the land, FBS football players are knee-deep in preparations for the start of fall camp in August.

While temperatures may be warm and the work sweat-inducing, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota carries more burdens and expectations than any player at the top level of college football.

And it doesn’t seem to bother him a bit.

Here’s what Mariota faces in 2014, likely his final season at Oregon:

  • Be the face, heart and soul of the program
  • Break in a virtually new cast of receivers
  • Stay healthy
  • Be a more vocal leader
  • Break records
  • Improve his statistics
  • Wow NFL scouts
  • Beat Stanford
  • Win the Pac-12 title
  • Make the four-team playoff bracket
  • Contend for the national title
  • Attack the Oregon record books
  • Make game-changing big plays
  • Earn all-American honors
  • Be the Heisman front-runner (apologies to Jameis Winston)
  • Be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft

That’s just off the top. Fortunately, Mariota’s Hawaiian-style cool has served him well since he stepped onto Oregon's campus. While coaches want him to step up in his leadership, there’s little doubt that Oregon’s leader is ready to answer the bell.

He’s that kind of guy.

A year ago, Mariota was among the nation's top quarterbacks, but a knee injury that he played through left him vulnerable in the pocket, far less accurate in the passing game, and something less than the Mariota everyone had come to expect.

In its wake, the Ducks lost another one to Stanford; then laid an egg in the desert against Arizona two weeks later with the Pac-12 North title there for the taking.

But that was 2013. Looming ahead is a 2014 season that could be, with an improved defense and a developing receiving group, something special. That’s certainly the way those close to the program are seeing it and expectations from Duck nation couldn’t be higher.

And it all rests on the shoulders of Mariota.

The Houston Texans may very well have picked Mariota first in the 2014 draft, but his decision to return wasn’t all that tough, according to the redshirt junior. Mariota said he had no regrets “whatsoever” about his decision to return to Oregon, adding that he will learn and grow from the situations he struggled with in 2013.

Despite his knee issues, Mariota threw for 3,665 yards (second all-time at Oregon) and rushed for more than 750 yards. With Oregon’s offense having questions at receiver, but two 1,000-yard backs returning in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, it may tilt towards the running game a bit more early on as the receivers find their footing.

While that may affect Mariota's passing numbers, it could actually make him more effective moving forward. Defenses may draw in to the line of scrimmage, opening up play-action and more passes downfield, a weapon that Oregon seemed to abandon a year ago.

If this year’s spring practice demonstrated anything, it showed the Mariota is back and still capable of “wow” moments. He routinely left heads shaking and eyebrows raised with his arm and his legs during spring drills. He offered no hint that his knee problem have lingered.

Mariota is a special talent and, by all accounts, a special young man. The calm and cool that his Hawaiian upbringing left on his personality is a perfect compliment to the many pressures and expectations that he faces for the 2014 season.

Mariota has said repeatedly that he’ll be himself this season, just as he’s always tried to be. Given the many expectations of him and the potential payoffs for the kind of season Oregon is dreaming about, Mariota's cool demeanor is probably going to serve him well.

It’s just his style.

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