EUGENE — By the end of his first academic term at Oregon last fall, Morgan Mahalak shelved his initial major, business, to follow his creative mind toward the university’s advertising program.

By April, during the early weeks of his third term on campus, he’ll have something akin to his first major presentation in his chosen field. Both of them, really.

He’ll attempt to sell to Oregon’s football coaches his promise as the Ducks’ future at quarterback.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Mahalak, a four-star dual-threat recruit from the class of 2014 who spent the fall redshirting and studying Marcus Mariota’s historic season up-close. “I’m pretty relaxed and easy going, so I see it more as an opportunity and I’m more excited about it.”

Mahalak joins a wide-open quarterback competition this spring, along with junior Jeff Lockie, sophomores Taylor Alie and Ty Griffin and true freshman early enrollee Travis Waller. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams will arrive this summer. All will compete with the shadow of NFL-bound Marcus Mariota’s standard looming over their performances — even Mahalak’s own initials bear an uncanny resemblance to the Heisman Trophy winner.

Seizing the starting job entering 2015 would be an obvious boon to Mahalak’s future, and possibly ahead of schedule by some estimations. But it would also go a long way toward rebounding from his admittedly “tough” first season as he struggled with a shoulder injury and motivation knowing he wouldn’t play. Head coach Mark Helfrich said Mahalak and fellow redshirt Ty Griffin did an “average to above-average job of staying dialed in” in the fall, as they helped lead scout team duties.

Mahalak didn’t disagree with Helfrich’s assessment.

“I kind of not coasted along, but when we’re going over stuff for the game film you obviously know you’re not going to be playing so it’s a little easy to get not sidetracked but not as focused as you would be,” Mahalak said. “For me, I think that was a little bit of a struggle and I have definitely have some regret there. But that’s in the past and the future is now. All I can really do is put my best foot forward.”

A key for younger players is to not take two steps back after every step forward, however, and Mahalak is fully aware of the learning curve he’ll continue to face this spring. But he’s taken steps to ease the transition — and possibly make a run at the starting job — through seven-on-seven sessions two nights a week and extended video study with Matt Noyer, an intern for offensive coordinator Scott Frost.

The rhythms of college life, from where to be on campus to what the football program demands of him — and how he must bridge the dual sides of being a student-athlete — are also beginning to feel more familiar.

“It seems like forever but it really hasn’t been that long,” Mahalak said. “That’s kind of the exciting part to see I’ve come quite a little ways in just a short amount of time. I’ll be here for four or five years, whatever it is, and get to develop a lot. … The first term was trying to find your feet a little bit and I’ve kind of found that.”

The freshman believes he can make a difference this spring. Whether Oregon’s coaches are buying his pitch will be known in September.

— Andrew Greif

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