Marcus Mariota makes emotional exit after CFP National Championship
ARLINGTON, Texas – Marcus Mariota walked off the field Monday night at AT&T Stadium amidst a shower of golden confetti. Only the ticker tape wasn't for his Oregon Ducks, it was for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Behind a bruising effort from offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Cardale Jones, Ohio State became the first champion of the College Football Playoff era.
Mariota couldn't help but hang his head at times during his post-game press conference. It would have been a perfect way to cap off a nearly perfect season, when he won the Heisman Trophy, won the Pac-12 Conference title and won the Rose Bowl.
The Hawai'i native found a little solace on his way back to the locker room, though, as his family adorned him with a colorful lei. Still in his shoulder pads, and wearing the colorful green, yellow, white and red arrangement around his neck, Mariota stood in the Oregon locker room with his teammates for perhaps last time.
Was Monday night his final act as a Duck? If so, how was he able to be so measured and composed about such an emotional moment?
"That's because you guys are all here," Mariota told reporters surrounding his locker. "When nobody was in here, the waterworks were going."
[Related video: Highlights: Oregon falls to Ohio State in CFP title game]
Calm. Cool. Collected. That's Marcus. But there's no mistaking his passion for the game.
Thursday marks NFL's deadline for underclassmen to declare for the upcoming draft and many project that Mariota would be the No. 1 overall pick if he was to leave school. That's a tough proposition for any one to turn down.
Even his receivers would understand. Asked if he would be upset to see Mariota make an early exit for the NFL, Dwayne Stanford said there would be nothing bittersweet about it.
"I'd be happy for him," Stanford said. "Everybody's got dreams. I'm happy if he wants to go to the league. He'd go to the league and tear it up."
The numbers don't lie. In 15 games this season, Mariota racked up 4,454 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and just four interceptions, while adding 770 yards and 15 more scores on the ground.
But on Monday night he was essentially bottled up, and a couple of early third-down drops by his receivers didn't help. Mariota finished Monday's title game 24-of-37 for 333 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, rushing 10 times for 39 more yards. He was even knocked out of the game for a brief moment in the third quarter after a crunching hit from Joey Bosa.
Mariota said he will take the next couple of days to talk to his family and decide whether or not to head to the NFL. But from the way his coaches and teammates talked, it seems they're expecting to move on to life after Marcus.
"I love this guy, and will forever," coach Mark Helfrich said. "Absolutely couldn't be luckier to coach him and be around him everyday. 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."
[Related video: Oregon's Hroniss Grasu hugs every teammate following title game loss]
Over the past three seasons, perhaps no one has grown closer to Mariota than his center, Hroniss Grasu, who is also likely to be an early NFL draft pick this year after wrapping up his five-year college career. Grasu's eyes welled up when he was asked about Mariota's impact on him, the University of Oregon and its football program.
"He's done a lot for us. Everything," Grasu said. "He's an unbelievable person, face of the program. I couldn't ask for any other quarterback that I would love to go to war with. I wouldn't want to ask for any other team to go to war with. Especially a guy like Marcus who is like a brother to me and I look up to very much."
With a career like Mariota's, and the way he carried himself around campus, there's no doubting his legacy. Just don't tell him that.
"I don't care about legacies," Mariota said. "That's other people's opinions. My main focus was to be a great teammate. That's all I hoped to accomplish. Yeah, I mean, I don't really care about legacies."