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Mariota wants to lead flock

Oregon sophomore quarterback will be counted on for more than just his production

August 16, 2013
By ANNE M. PETERSON , The Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. - Marcus Mariota is planning to take on more than just a few extra pounds this season.

Oregon's soft-spoken quarterback, who bulked up with 12 pounds of muscle over the summer, says he's ready to break out and become a more vocal leader of the Ducks in his sophomore year.

"I have really high expectations for myself as well as this team," said Mariota, a Saint Louis School alumnus. "So I'm going to really push myself as a leader to help these guys - as well as myself - to get where we want to go."

Article Photos

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, a Saint Louis School alumnus, added 12 pounds of muscle over the summer. During last season’s 12-1 campaign, he passed for 2,677 yards and set school records with 38 total touchdowns and a 68.5 completion percentage.
AP file photo

He's already got an impressive skillset. Last season as a redshirt freshman, Mariota set the school's single-season record with 38 touchdowns (32 passing, 5 rushing, 1 receiving), surpassing the previous mark of 36 held by Darron Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998).

The first freshman named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team in 23 years, Mariota passed for 2,677 yards while completing a school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of total offense, second only to Smith's 3,947 in 1998.

Several times last season Mariota didn't even play the entire game because the Ducks had built a sizeable lead. Oregon averaged 49.6 points per game compared to 21.6 for opponents.

"As far as ratio and numbers, this guy is the best quarterback in the country," first-year head coach Mark Helfrich said. "But he doesn't care how many passing yards he has. He cares what it says before and after the hyphen in the team record, and that's how we operate."

Oregon finished 12-1 last season and beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, finishing at No. 2 in The Associated Press rankings. Coach Chip Kelly departed for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason but the Ducks aren't expected to experience a drop-off under Helfrich, the team's former offensive coordinator.

There has been talk that Mariota will take to the air a little more under Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback who was promoted to offensive coordinator when Helfrich became head coach.

"I'm down to throw the ball more," Mariota said. "But whatever coach Frost and coach Helfrich develop as a game plan, we'll be ready to execute it. If one week we throw the ball a little more, or another week the guys run the ball more, it's up to the coaches. And I'm looking forward to it."

Senior receiver Josh Huff said Mariota's arm has gotten stronger.

"I'm excited to see what he does this season and how far he can take us," Huff said.

As a senior at St. Louis, Mariota threw for 32 touchdowns and led the Crusaders to an 11-1 record and the state Division I title. He was widely considered one of the state's best quarterback prospects since Tim Chang, who later starred at the University of Hawaii.

He was on the practice squad in 2011 when the Ducks finished the season with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Darron Thomas, declared for the NFL draft after the season, and many assumed Oregon's starting quarterback job would be passed on to Bryan Bennett, his backup.

But Mariota piqued the interest of fans during Oregon's annual spring game in 2012 when he threw for 202 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for two additional scores.

Mariota won the competition. Bennett, who appeared in 10 games last season as Mariota's backup, transferred in January to Southeastern Louisiana.

Because of his freshman success, Mariota has drawn some inevitable comparisons to Johnny Manziel, who verbally committed to Oregon in high school but eventually decided to go to Texas A&M. Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner, has had a rocky offseason and is currently under NCAA investigation over whether he was paid for signing hundreds of autographs last January.

Personality-wise, Mariota eschews the spotlight and rarely makes waves.

Last season, he left team leadership to seniors like Kenjon Barner and Michael Clay.

Mariota knows it's his turn now. And he'll do it his way.

"I'm really working on - not being a rah-rah guy - but being that presence for guys to come up and say, 'I felt I did this wrong, what's your take on it?' " Mariota said. "I feel like I've done a good job with that. I'm working on it. It's still a process. But that's something I'm really putting on myself, to be a leader from that standpoint."



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