Athletics: Marcus Mariota

Won Hawai‘i’s heart
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 

Yes, he really is the first NFL quarterback to notch a perfect rating in his first regular-season game. Yes, he was offered a scholarship to Oregon before ever throwing a pass as a high school starter. Yes, there’s that Heisman Trophy, the first awarded to a Hawai‘i player. But all this doesn’t explain the effect Marcus Mariota has on Islanders: “Hawai‘i people feel that Marcus belongs to them,” says Bobby Curran of ESPN 1420 sports radio. 


At St. Louis School, Mariota delivered a state football championship after overcoming bad timing (an all-star quarterback in front of him) and hard luck (a broken elbow junior year). To showcase his talents, his family sold their house. “My parents sacrificed so my brother and I could attend camps on the Mainland,” Mariota says. At Oregon, he was an insurance pick behind two other phenoms. When neither enrolled, the redshirt freshman ran the complex, warp-speed Oregon offense to a Rose Bowl win and No. 2 final ranking. In his sophomore year, an injured Mariota couldn’t rally Oregon to the top. Spurning the NFL draft and instant riches, he returned the following season to play in the championship game and win the Heisman, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards. For his Heisman speech, “I knew I was going to represent a lot more than myself,” he says. “I knew if I got the opportunity, I couldn’t just speak from the heart, but from the mind.” The well-honed result spoke of those who shaped him, and stressed the importance of family and Hawai‘i.


Only 23, he’s an old hand at giving back, assisting as a teen in passing camps led by St. Louis legend Vinny Passas, and volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club in Eugene. Now he’s started a foundation, Motiv8.


Mariota travels without an entourage, works without handlers and leaves no autograph-seeking child behind. “He’s almost too good to be true,” says Curran. “Being around professional athletes for over 40 years, you see them have their bad hair days. But I’ve never seen or heard of one bad thing said about Marcus.”