Mariota gets the award he came back for: A college degree

From left: Dustin Haines, Steve Stolp, Marcus Mariota
From left: Dustin Haines, Steve Stolp, Marcus Mariota

As the 2013 football season came to a close, fans and scouts speculated about the future of Marcus Mariota: Would he enter the NFL draft or come back to finish business with the Ducks?

What most people didn’t know is that Mariota was spending as many hours at the Jaqua Center for Student Athletes, closing down the building with late-night study sessions, as he was on the practice field or in the film room. That’s because his goal wasn’t only to succeed in football.

“He came back because he wanted to finish his degree,” said Steve Stolp, executive director of UO Services for Student Athletes and Mariota’s academic advisor. “He would have been a top pick in the draft last year. His decision was full of a lot of risk, both personally and physically, because he didn’t know what the future held. But he made a commitment with a few other players and they wanted to come back and try to win the national championship.”

On Saturday, Mariota became the first Duck in the University of Oregon’s history to win the Heisman Award in a ceremony in New York City. That came at the end of a whirlwind week that included being the first UO player to win a slew of other awards, including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award, the Walter Camp Football Foundation National Player of the Year Award, the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Mariota and the rest of the football team will play in the first round of the inaugural college football playoffs. The No. 2 Ducks meet the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Jan. 1.

But back in Eugene, Mariota will pick up the one thing every college student works so hard for – his bachelor’s degree.

Mariota took his last final exam Monday, Dec. 8, just as word came that he was an official Heisman finalist. With a 3.22 grade-point average, he will graduate this term, earning a general science degree with an emphasis in human physiology.

“General science requires a lot of labs, which can be difficult to schedule around practice and games,” Stolp said. “But from the beginning Marcus was directed and motivated on wanting to earn a degree that could allow him to go into sports medicine or physical therapy.”

Stolp helped Mariota plan his academic trail at the UO, but ultimately it was up to the student to follow through with instructors to finish coursework and get the okay to take tests from the road. Days often started with morning practice, followed by classes, then back to watch film and do workouts. Late nights were all about studying.

“In addition to the fact that he’s in a tough major, he also graduated in three years and one term, which is pretty astonishing for any student, athlete or not,” Stolp said.

Even as Mariota gained the national attention as a top quarterback, he focused on his schoolwork. While attending the Manning Passing Academy during the summer of 2013, Mariota was also taking his 200-level biology series. When other top college athletes were out partying at night, Mariota was studying for exams.

“Marcus is a once-in-a-career student athlete,” Stolp said. “He’s a quiet guy. You won’t find him self-promoting. It’s been fun to watch his progression. He was so shy as a freshman, but now he carries himself with more confidence and is a quiet leader.”

But even as Mariota stands as perhaps the most celebrated player in Duck history and one of the best in all college football, he remains unaffected by his growing fame.

“The night before he left for the award ceremonies, he was in my office and I said, ‘If you win the Heisman, you will have to do all the TV shows,’” Stolp said. “He said, ‘I just feel bad for the people who have to watch it, because I’ll bore them.’ I told him, ‘There’s nothing boring about watching a winner.’ He’s on track to be one of the UO’s most decorated athletes and is humble to the end.”

—By Heidi Hiaasen, Public Affairs Communications