Sunday, December 14, 2014

The right (Heisman) stuff

Say this for the 80th Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota: He's probably not going to drop the thing.

Or, you know, show up in a selfie in Vegas starring the Heisman, himself and his new pal Insert Celebrity Name Here.

Or use it as a doorstop to keep various investigators, campus police and actual police away.

This is because Mariota is the kind of guy who, upon getting the call, broke down and cried at the podium while talking about, no, not his show-business buddies, but his mom and dad. And he's the kind of guy who inspired even rival coaches (to wit, Stanford's David Shaw) to declare that if Mariota didn't win the Heisman, he likely wouldn't speak the word again.

He is, in short, the anti-Johnny Manziel, whose sense of entitlement and willing embrace of self-aggrandizement (i.e., the whole "Johnny Football" persona) made some wonder if the Heisman's fabled stiff-armed pose wasn't a literal attempt to distance itself from him.  And he's for sure not Jameis Winston, now starring in a police report/disciplinary hearing/campus complaint near you.

Mariota is none of that. If you tried to call him "Marcus Football," he'd probably get one of his linemen to turn you inside out like an empty pants pocket. And he's not going to turn up on a rap sheet or be caught charging around campus shooting up stuff with BB guns.

What you get instead from him is a humility all great athletes affect but few pull off with any sense of authenticity, and much of that squares with his background. This is a guy who was a backup quarterback at his high school in Hawaii as late as his junior year, and was pursued by exactly two schools: Washington and Memphis. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, in fact, discovered him while watching video of the kid he was playing behind.

So when he says he feels blessed by all of this, it's likely genuine.

And what kind of pro will he make?

Hard to say. He's got the size (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) and the speed (a 4.5 40) to get it done, but the success of college read-option quarterbacks transitioning to the next level has been uneven to say the least. What you can say about Mariota is that, from a temperament and character standpoint, he seems cut from the same cloth as Russell Wilson -- the one read-option QB who demonstrably has succeeded in the NFL.

But later for that. For now, the dominant image is of Mariota, wreathed in celebratory leis from his friends at St. Louis High in Hawaii, cradling the gnarled little stiff-arming guy.

Both of them look quite comfortable with the arrangement.

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