HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Marcus Mariota can assure you, his return to Oregon has nothing to do with the Heisman Trophy.
Well maybe not nothing, since soon as the redshirt junior quarterback announced that he would be returning to Eugene for his third season with the Ducks, the Heisman campaign began and Oregon was yet again an instant title contender.
Yes, Mariota wants to finally lead the Ducks to college football’s promised land. But there was a little more that went into the decision. Mariota has big plans on the football field, but football, he says, won’t last forever.
Some things, like an education, are more important than a Heisman trophy and an NFL contract at the moment.
"There was a lot of things that played into (my decision), but first and foremost, I wanted to get my degree," Mariota said Wednesday at Pac-12 Media Day at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios. "My major was what dictated keeping me here, and secondly, it was just about coming back and enjoying college. You experience so many things in college, a lot of new things and I wasn’t ready to leave all of that this year."
His major, general sciences, has allowed him to intern with the Oregon athletic training staff in the offseason. Day-to-day, he’s hands-on with other Oregon student-athletes, helping and watching the trainers and therapists as they tape ankles and develop injury rehab programs. And he couldn’t be enjoying it more.
"I want to work in something along the lines of sports medicine and physical therapy," he said. "I like working with athletes and I was able to intern with the sports medicine department and it gave me some insight into what that type of job and that type of work entails."
His family puts a heavy emphasis on education and only a few credits shy of that degree, it made sense for him to come back despite the big payday he has indefinitely delayed.
A possible first-round pick, Mariota turned down a significant amount of money to return to Oregon. There were few questions surrounding him, between his pure athleticism and his relatively injury-free history. The 20-year-old Honolulu native was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football in his two seasons at the helm of one of the most dynamic offenses in the game. He can run and he can find the runners. His football IQ is high, and his arm is strong and accurate.
Not that he needed it, but his decision to stay with his team another season has earned him a little more respect from his teammates.
"If I’m the backup guard and I see that guy forgo what he could have made, it’s not some lip service dream, this is a reality of a ton of money," said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. "Then there are certain elements that eliminate that. Like, ‘that guy turned down how much? Okay, I’ll watch him.’ That’s huge."
Mariota may very well see himself taking home a nice shiny trophy in New York City next year and he might see his name taken off the board before any other quarterback next spring. But it’s what comes before and after those trips to New York that he’s the most concerned about right now.
"I wanted to get my degree, I wanted to leave with that in hand," he said. "Football is only for a short period and I wanted to prepare myself for after."