Vinnie Passas, Marcus Mariota’s quarterback coach at St. Louis High School requires five things of his players:
- Show love for their mothers
- Make two people smile every day
- Do one random act of kindness
- Be a team player in all facets of life
- Say a prayer when they see an ambulance, a police car or a fire truck.
Marcus Mariota took a deep breath, shook his lowered head and pursed his lips. His eyes welled up. He had just won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first Hawaii native and the first Oregon Duck to do so, and he was getting choked up as he delivered his acceptance speech at a theater in Midtown. He took a moment to address the children of Hawaii who are much the way he was.
“You should take this as motivation and dream big and strive for greatness,” he said.
“This is the toughest part,” he said, and took another breath. He thanked his parents and his brother and ended with a message in Samoan: Thank you very much.
Afterward, drawing on Hawaiian, he said, “Ohana means family — that’s it right there.” He added, wearing Hawaiian and Samoan leis around his neck: “In Hawaii, if one person is successful, the entire state is successful. To be a part of that, it’s so special. It’s hard to explain.
Mariota received 2,534 points, 90.9 percent of the maximum possible for a winner — the second-highest percentage of the modern era, behind only Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith’s 91.6 percent in 2006. Gordon finished second with 1,250 points, and Cooper had 1,023.
Mariota was an inspiration in his home state. He further validated the Oregon football program. And he has become viewed as the N.C.A.A.’s ideal student-athlete, especially after character issues in part defined the previous two Heisman winners, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel.
Mariota has garnered attention for his more positive off-field activities. He volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club in Eugene, Ore. He graduated early with a degree in general science. He tutored his teammates in high school.
“He’s always had a different mind-set than everyone else,” Taylor Troy, a close friend of Mariota’s, said by telephone last week. They played football together in Pop Warner and high school.
He added: “He always had his priorities in the right order. Around here, your priorities can sometimes get turned the wrong way. But he stuck to it. Stuck to football. Stuck to school. Stuck to his family. He’s just never gone off track. That’s why he’s so great.”
Before this season, Mariota attended the Manning Passing Academy with Vinnie Passas, who was his quarterback coach at St. Louis High School.
For morning meetings, Passas said, Mariota was prompt and sat near the front of the room. At night, he passed up invitations from the other quarterbacks to go out, opting to stay in and do homework for an online class.