NEW YORK Marcus Mariota wrote it all down, every word of his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. It was a good thing, too, because getting through it might have been tougher than sprinting away from linebacker or tossing a long touchdown pass for the Oregon Ducks.
The understated star quarterback became Oregon’s first Heisman winner going away Saturday night, capping a three-year climb to college football’s most prestigious individual award.
“I’m humbled to be standing here today,” Mariota said moments after he was announced as the winner.
Mariota isn’t a bigger talker, but he steadily worked through his speech, thanking his teammates, teachers, friends and his home state of Hawaii. He finally hit a snag when it came time to thank his mother and father. He needed to take two deep breaths and still he got choked up.
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“I had to give thanks to so many people because where I am today, it’s all do to all those people,” Mariota said later. “It’s hard not to get emotional. It’s been a long journey. My emotions got the best of me.”
A pinpoint passer with wide-receiver speed, Mariota came into his junior season as the favorite to win the 80th Heisman and delivered a performance that turned the presentation ceremony at a theater in Times Square into a foregone conclusion.
Mariota had twice as many points (2,534) as second-place finisher Melvin Gordon (1,250), the record-breaking running back from Wisconsin. The other finalist, Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, was third.
Mariota received the second-highest percentage of possible points (90.92) in Heisman history, behind only Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who had 91.63 in 2006. Southern California tailback Reggie Bush received 91.77 percent of possible points in 2005, but his victory was later vacated for violating NCAA rules.
Mariota, the first Hawaii native to win the Heisman, has accounted for a Pac-12-record 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing and one receiving) while directing the Ducks’ warp-speed spread offense.
“In Hawaii, if one person is successful, the entire state is successful,” he said, draped in leis at his news conference.
It will be a matchup of Heisman-winning quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff’s Rose Bowl semifinal Jan. 1 with Mariota and the second-seeded Ducks facing Florida State and Jameis Winston.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field and playing again,' Mariota said. “We do have a team goal.”
In an era when so many Heisman winners seemingly come from out of nowhere – the last two were the first freshmen winners – Mariota’s rise was slow and steady.
Three of the last four Heisman winners were in their first seasons as starters, including Cam Newton, who won the award in his only season at Auburn after transferring from a junior college. Before Newton, three straight sophomores won the award (Tim Tebow of Florida, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Mark Ingram of Alabama). Tebow was the first sophomore winner.
Like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Winston, the previous two winners, Mariota started as a redshirt freshman. It didn’t take long for him to establish himself as a star, but unlike Johnny Football and Famous Jameis, Mariota wasn’t the face of college football in his first season.
In his second season he put up numbers that rivaled those of Heisman finalist quarterbacks Winston, Manziel, AJ McCarron and Jordan Lynch, but when it came time to vote for the Heisman, Mariota was forgotten. He didn’t even finish in the top 10 in 2013.
This season Mariota would not be ignored.
He leads the nation in passer rating (186.2), is fifth in total offense (342.5 yards per game) and has led the Ducks to a Pac-12 title with a chance to play for their first national championship.
Of course, patience and poise have defined Mariota’s career. He didn’t start for his high school team until he was a senior – then led Saint Louis in Honolulu to a state title.
A quiet leader with a nice-guy reputation, Mariota brought no off-field baggage to this Heisman ceremony. After a season beset by off-field troubles, including a school hearing into sexual assault allegations, Winston wasn’t a finalist this time around. He finished sixth.
Oregon’s only Heisman finalists before Mariota were quarterback Joey Harrington in 2001 and running back LaMichael James in 2010.
“If you have your punch list of things as a program, the most iconic individual award would be the Heisman Trophy. But like Marcus said, I know he’d trade all that to win as a team,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
For Harrington, Oregon, with Nike’s help, put up a billboard in Times Square to promote their Heisman candidate.
Oregon didn’t need a billboard to get the word out about Mariota. His play provided all the publicity he needed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrusoAP