By Rob Moseley
This past spring, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota participated in graduation ceremonies at the university. After just three years on campus, Mariota had earned a degree in general sciences, which requires math courses up to and including calculus, along with Mariota’s chosen focus on human physiology.
Having decided to pass up the NFL draft and return to school for the 2014 football season, Mariota allowed himself a less rigorous course load for the fall. Among the classes he’ll take is golf.
While the general sciences major surely will end up proving more taxing, when it comes to the links, Mariota could use some extra homework. “Oh man,” he said with a laugh after Monday’s first practice of preseason camp. “I’m bad.”
How bad? Recently, Mariota was playing a round of 18 holes with his roommate and close friend Jeff Lockie – who also happens to be Mariota’s backup at quarterback. At the turn, the two were even. But on the back side, Mariota reverted to form; Lockie ended up edging him by 30 strokes.
The location of their round was unusual; the two were in Mariota’s home state of Hawaii, where Lockie spent six days with Mariota’s family in July. That Lockie finished with the better score, however, was very typical. “I had to make sure he knew it doesn’t matter what state we’re in,” Lockie joked.
In the ultra-competitive world of college football, battles for playing time don’t always make for the friendliest of relationships among guys at the same position. Quarterbacks, as one of the smallest position groups on the team, tend to be an exception. But even in that regard, the relationship between Mariota and Lockie is unique.
One is the face of Oregon football, the other his relatively unproven backup. One is from the islands, the other from the mainland. And yet for all their differences, “they’re as close as any two guys on our team,” said their position coach, UO offensive coordinator Scott Frost. “They’re brothers.”
Mariota, a redshirt junior, and Lockie, a redshirt sophomore, first bonded when Lockie arrived from his home state of California in 2012. Lockie asked his new position mate for help studying the playbook, Mariota came over to oblige and then ended up sticking around to play video games. The studying/gaming sessions became routine and a friendship was formed.
They bonded over their similarities, as grounded, mature young men who take a particularly analytical approach to the game. And they bonded over their differences, which go beyond their skills on the golf course.
“We’re two very different people in certain aspects,” Mariota said. “He’s very Type A; I’m a little more on the shy side. People say opposites attract, and it’s funny how that worked out.”
A particular trait of Lockie’s Type A-ness is his willingness to bust the chops of anyone and everyone, up to and including Frost or UO head coach Mark Helfrich. And also Mariota. “They’re hilarious together,” UO receiver Keanon Lowe said. “Not a lot of people will poke fun at Marcus; I think Lockie’s the only one I’ve ever seen.”
Lockie, a devoted Buffalo Bills fans, busts on Mariota’s Dallas Cowboys. He needles Mariota for being an oh-so-very stereotypically laid back Hawaiian. And of course, he mocks Mariota’s golf skills.
But he’s a resource for Mariota as well. “He’s done so much for me in his couple years here,” Mariota said. “Hopefully I helped his learning curve when he came in. He really helps me out on the field when it comes to game time. He’s able to see things and throw them out there on the sideline, making sure I’m paying attention to certain keys. It’s a blessing for me.”
That aspect of the friendship is a two-way street. The two might be at home late at night the week of a game, studying film on their iPads, and one will hit up the other to get their thoughts on a certain tendency the upcoming opponent might be revealing. “They’re both really, really football smart,” Frost said. “They can bounce ideas off each other, and it’s four eyes instead of two.”
That dynamic plays out on the practice field, and on the sideline during games, the two making sure each other noticed how, for example, a defensive end might be reacting to the option. Mariota, the unquestioned starter, benefits from the extra set of eyes, which see the game in similarly analytical fashion; Lockie, the backup, has the chance to mentor from arguably the best quarterback in college football.
In the way that Lockie pokes fun at Mariota, or runs interference for him when they’re out in public, so that Mariota gets to enjoy some personal space, Lockie can sometimes seem like the older brother of the two. “I can see that, and I definitely understand that – but he definitely helps me out a lot too,” Lockie said.
Off and on since they became friends, Mariota had mentioned the idea of Lockie visiting Hawaii. Lockie had been there before on a vacation – “but it wasn’t the real Hawaii,” he said. Knowing that Mariota planned to spend a couple of weeks back home this summer, Lockie looked into plane tickets, and found a reasonably priced flight.
So it came to pass that he spent six days with Mariota in the islands, just prior to the start of preseason camp. There was a memorable trip to a sandbar in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hiking and beach days.
And of course, there was Mariota’s epic choke job in the final nine holes of their golf outing. On the football field, Mariota may have a definitive edge on Lockie, but the dynamic is equally one-sided on the links – a fact Lockie doesn’t figure to let his roommate, teammate and friend live down any time soon.