In TV and movies, we often get images of the senior class running the show. Whether it’s the newly minted high school seniors in “Dazed and Confused” forcing freshmen to perform air raid drills or the “Animal House” Delta and Omega houses each engaging in their own rite of passage hazing rituals, there are the seniors and then there is everyone else.
That idea is starting to seem as dated as those movies, themselves. After being dominated by senior recipients throughout its history, for the eighth straight year, a senior will not be awarded this season’s Heisman Trophy. Only once since 2002 has a senior taken home college football’s most prestigious individual honor (Troy Smith, 2006) and with three juniors as finalists, that trend will continue.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon were announced Monday as the three candidates invited to Saturday night’s festivities in New York City. With all due respect to Cooper and Gordon, there is virtually no suspense as to who ends up hearing their name read and holding that iconic trophy. Even the Wikipedia page for “List of Heisman Trophy winners” had Mariota’s name and photo for the 2014 entry early Tuesday morning. That was quickly taken down but it won’t be gone for long.
The graduate of Honolulu’s Saint Louis School is the odds-on favorite to become the first Hawaii-born Heisman winner. Mariota finished the regular season with 53 total touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving) and 4,478 total yards (3,783 passing, 669 rushing, 26 receiving) while throwing only two interceptions. He was among tops in the nation in yards per attempt (10.2), passer rating (186.3) and Total Quarterback Rating (91.9). He accomplished all that while leading the Ducks to a 12-1 season and the No. 2 spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, where Oregon will face No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) with the winner moving on to the National Championship (Jan. 12).
Unlike the past two Heisman winners – freshmen Johnny Manziel (2012) and Jameis Winston (2013) – Mariota receives attention only for his play. He’s managed to become an All-American player at the most recognizable position in football, yet he hasn’t dealt with any off-field drama like Manziel and Winston were subject to – or subjected themselves to, depending on your point of view. By all accounts, Mariota is about as good a teammate, leader and person as he is a thrower and scrambler.
I had a chance to do an interview with Marcus during the summer after his senior year at Saint Louis, but we never connected. One of his family members sent me an email detailing all his high school accomplishments and talking about how he used to spend time on Kauai with family and how his mother, Alana, was a Kapaa High graduate. Having been focused mostly on KIF football and not on Oahu players all that much, I hoped to do the story but I wasn’t sure how high a priority to make it. I knew Mariota was headed to Oregon but I certainly had no idea what type of career he was about to embark upon.
Four years later and the boy who drew virtually no interest from the University of Hawaii until it was too late could be about to win the Heisman Trophy, win a national championship and become the NFL Draft’s No. 1 pick. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton accomplished that trifecta in 2010 but it hadn’t been done since Notre Dame’s Leon Hart way back in 1949.
Cooper is going to be a very good NFL wide receiver and Gordon has had a great season, but Saturday will be Mariota’s moment of recognition. It will also be an evening of pride for Hawaii, which couldn’t ask for a better representative.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.