Aloha, Marcus Mariota.

The Oregon Ducks‘ junior quarterback filed paperwork to declare for the NFL draft and forgo his senior season of eligibility, the school announced Wednesday, a long-expected decision that caps the greatest individual career in UO football history.

Just as the Hawaii native maintained he would all fall, he met with his parents and brother for two days after the season’s end before making public his choice to turn pro.

“My four years at the University of Oregon have been an awesome experience,” Mariota said in a prepared statement. “I cannot thank Coach (Chip) Kelly, Coach (Mark) Helfrich, Coach (Scott) Frost, the rest of the Oregon coaches and the support staff enough for molding me as a person, player and student-athlete. The support I received from the University, the city of Eugene and Duck fans has been tremendous. I will always remember the great times and support I received. Once a Duck always a Duck.

“I will miss being with my teammates. Being a part of this team was something special that I will always treasure.”

Mariota, who many considered a likely No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, is again considered a likely top-five pick in May’s NFL draft, which will be held in Chicago. Only one Duck has ever been selected No. 1 by the NFL: George Shaw, in 1955. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the first selection.

The awaited move kicks off months of speculation surrounding where he’ll land in the draft, and who will become his successor running Oregon’s “blur offense.” 

Yet before looking forward that far, Wednesday became an outpouring of thank-yous from his coaches, teammates and fans.

“He’s given this program everything we could have asked,” head coach Mark Helfrich said in a statement, “and he’ll be the standard by which others are judged.”

“Best QB ever,” Ducks receiver Dwayne Stanford tweeted.

Following the Ducks’ 42-20 loss in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night in Arlington, Texas, Mariota said he had no interest in stacking his career in a Ducks uniform against anybody else’s.

But for a guy who didn’t care about his legacy, he left an all-timer.

Even in a career rare for its production, poise and humility, Mariota’s 2014 season will go down as the topper to it all after he became Oregon’s second unanimous All-American while sweeping every award he was nominated for.

The unprecedented haul included player of the year honors from the Heisman, Maxwell, Walter Camp and AP, while winning quarterback of the year from the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas awards. 

Not bad for a three-star recruit whose only other scholarship offer prior to Oregon’s was from Memphis. 

“I think you could certainly argue that this was the best, if not certainly one of the top two or three greatest seasons in college football history,” head coach Mark Helfrich said Monday. “And then if you add in the person and the legacy that he has from that standpoint, there has never been one greater. None.”

Mariota led the Ducks to a 36-5 record, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships in his three seasons as starter and owns school marks for total offense, passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage, among several others. The 2014 Pac-12 offensive player of the year set a conference record with his 58 total touchdowns this season. Overall he finishes with 105 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions — in 1,167 career attempts.

He becomes the second Duck junior to declare early for the draft in as many days, joining defensive end Arik Armstead.

Oregon received good news later Wednesday, however, when defensive end DeForest Buckner said he’ll stay for his senior season. Yet to decide his future ahead of Thursday’s deadline to declare is receiver Byron Marshall.

One afternoon last December perhaps encapsulates the mix of football heroics and off-field humility that Mariota will be remembered for most in Eugene. The same day he joined LaMichael James and Joey Harrington as the third Duck ever named a Heisman Trophy finalist, he was taking an online final exam for a special education class.

It was the last test he needed before officially graduating and because of it, he didn’t know the uproar over his selection until he looked at his phone well afterward.

“Absolutely couldn’t be luckier to coach him and be around him every day,” Helfrich said Monday. “He’s kind of one of those guys, around our neck of the woods, it’s kind of like Madonna or Cher or whatever, it’s Marcus. That’s the kind his name has reached. He’s an adjective, and definitely a very, very — again, the impact that he’s had on the field is extremely significant; off the field, probably even bigger.”

Mariota, 21, had already stiff-armed the NFL once.

In December 2013, Mariota and Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks center and Mariota’s closest friend, released a joint announcement that each would come back in 2014 to try to earn the school’s first national championship.

They came close this fall.

Oregon won a school-record 13 games on the back of Mariota’s Pac-12 record 5,250 yards of total offense. The last victory was a 59-20 beatdown of Florida State at the Rose Bowl, a game in which Mariota outdueled Jameis Winston, a player he figures to be compared to for the next five months in the run-up to the draft. Each is expected to be a high first-round pick.

That matchup inspired comparisons of each quarterback’s character and off-field antics and, indeed, Mariota’s laid-back demeanor is as much a piece of why he became so endeared to Eugene, and the state, as much as his touchdowns.

Soft-spoken to the point of shyness, Mariota often spent winter and spring afternoons mentoring kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley in Eugene. 

Yet any reticence disappeared on the field. By the end of his sophomore season, Harrington and former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti each openly called Mariota the best quarterback — and player — in school history. And that was before he hoisted the Heisman in New York City in December on a day that will likely be regarded as the program’s high-water mark until it wins a national championship.

He won the Heisman in a landslide, earning nearly 91 percent of the vote over runner-up Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and receiver Amari Cooper of Alabama.

On a gray afternoon on Nov. 22, Mariota slowly jogged off Autzen Stadium’s field for the last time. But before he reached the sideline, he took a bow toward the grandstands.

On Wednesday, Mariota took the next step, dashing into the NFL.

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
503-221-8100
@andrewgreif

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