Oregon QB Marcus Mariota wins Heisman Trophy – USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Mark Helfrich made a trip to Hawaii in the spring of 2010 to watch Marcus Mariota, an overlooked three-star prospect, go through practice and throw the football on his high school field.
First, however, Helfrich watched Mariota run. The coach at St. Louis High School was angry, Mariota recalled, so the team spent the first 30 minutes of practice running laps.
“It was unbelievable, unbelievable,” Helfrich said. “They were running basically gassers,” team-wide sprints from one sideline to another, “and he won every single one. That was again part of the lore. Then, they brought out the ball.”
Mariota recalled, “Coach Helfrich doesn’t really share this story, but he sat there and was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to just watch him run for 30 minutes. I don’t know how this visit is really going to go.’ “
Mariota was worth the wait. Within five minutes of watching Mariota throw, Helfrich had an answer for then-coach Chip Kelly: We need to offer a scholarship.
“I don’t know if raw is the right word,” said Helfrich. “He was really good. I mean, really good. It’s kind of like there’s a bunch of gold. You don’t make the gold. You just say, hey, there’s the gold.”
More than four years later, Mariota won the Heisman Trophy in unsurprisingly convincing style, finishing well ahead of fellow finalists Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon to become the first Heisman winner in University of Oregon history.
As expected, his Heisman win was of near-historic proportion.
Mariota was named on 95.16% of all ballots collected, a record for the award. USC running back Reggie Bush was named on a record 91.77% of ballots when he won the Heisman in 2005, an award since vacated following NCAA penalties. One year later, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was named on 91.63% of all ballots in winning the award, and Mariota is second with 90.9.
“Obviously, I had dreams about it,” Mariota said. “Every kid that plays football wants to be a part of this ceremony. For me, this is really a dream come true, and I’m really thankful to be here.”
Mariota leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing efficiency and yards per attempt, and ranks second in touchdown passes. He also leads the nation in fewest interceptions per attempt; if his current rate holds, Mariota will set a single-season record for quarterbacks with at least 350 attempts.
On Jan. 1, Mariota and Oregon will face Florida State and last year’s Heisman winner, quarterback Jameis Winston, in the first of the two national semifinals in the College Football Playoff.
He earned 2,534 points in total, with 788 of 874 first-place votes. Former USC running back O.J. Simpson, who win the Heisman in 1968, holds the record with 2,853 points; that came with nearly 300 more voters than in the 2014 race, however.
Mariota is the Pac-12 Conference’s first Heisman winner from a school other than USC since 1970, when the trophy went to Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett. He was the third player from Oregon to attend the Heisman ceremony as a finalist, joining quarterback Joey Harrington in 2001 and running back LaMichael James in 2010.
Unlike in Harrington’s campaign, however, which began with a billboard in bustling Times Square, Mariota’s case for the Heisman was made by his on-field performance.
“I tend to not like that stuff,” he said of a similar promotion for the Heisman. “I wouldn’t enjoy it.”
That’s just Mariota’s personality, Helfrich said. Quiet. Not a screamer, nor a yeller. Unassuming. Uncomfortable in the spotlight. Still competitive, still wildly impactful, still — in a word — legendary.
“It’s almost mythical,” Helfrich said. “It’s a joke. It’s like a movie. The headmaster said this, the teacher said that, the counselor said this. This guy’s not going to be any good. There’s got to be something here — he’s a felon, something. The more you look, it’s like OK, he’s as good as advertised.
“If boys and girls across the country — if I were a boy watching the Heisman presentation, certainly in our sport or in general — looking up to how this guy works, his humility, his excellence, his competitiveness, it’s a great thing for all those young people.”
Gordon, who leads the FBS with 2,336 rushing yards, finished second with 1,250 points. Cooper, the winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s most outstanding receiver, finished third with 1,023 points.
Eleven players across college football received a first-place vote. The top 10 finishers:
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
3. Amari Cooper, Alabama
4. Trevone Boykin, TCU
5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
6. Jameis Winston, Florida State
7. Tevin Coleman, Indiana
8. Dak Prescott, Misssissippi State
9. Scooby Wright III, Arizona
10. Bryce Petty, Baylor