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Mariota focused on improvement as preseason camp looms
Release Date: 07/17/2013
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by Rob Moseley

EUGENE, Ore. — Freshly outfitted in a dark, metal skin, the Moshofsky Center sat mostly idle late Tuesday afternoon.

Construction crews buzzed around the building's exterior like so many worker bees. Some were putting finishing touches on a large yellow "OREGON" newly painted along the indoor practice facility's east-side doors; others continued the redevelopment of Autzen Stadium's north side.

Inside, the Mo was vacant — with one exception.

Standing with his back to a cinder-block wall some 10 feet away, Marcus Mariota clutched a weighted medicine ball, twisted and threw it over his shoulder. After hitting the wall, the ball fell to the turf with a thud; Mariota retrieved it, and did it again. Over and over.

Such are the preparations of an all-Pac-12 quarterback: repetitive, minute in their detail and focus, and essential to his development — in this case, of hip strength.

Mariota was left to attend to the workout alone after returning from a weekend serving as counselor at the Manning Passing Academy.

Such are the ways a star quarterback is pulled in multiple directions. Such are the lengths to which he must go to ensure he doesn't short-change his top priority: the 2013 Oregon football season.

"Just because I missed the last couple days, I had to kind of make up for it," Mariota said while sipping a post-workout protein shake Tuesday, a day before he was named Wednesday to the preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.

Proving his priorities are in order, Mariota has limited his commitments this summer. He turned down the chance to work as a counselor earlier a few weeks ago at the Elite 11 camp for recruits that was held in Portland.

The general sciences major, who is preparing for a post-football career as a physical therapist, is instead focused on the eight biology credits he's taking this summer. He's also helping lead the Ducks through conditioning workouts with strength coach Jim Radcliffe, and voluntary practice sessions with the football team.

"I've been asked to do several other things," said Mariota, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season. "Manning was kind of my main focus, but other than that I just wanted to be here with the guys."

The Manning Passing Academy was held Thursday through Sunday last week in Thibodaux, La., ironically on the campus of Nicholls, Oregon's 2013 season-opening opponent Aug. 31 in Autzen Stadium. The camp, for players entering eighth through 12th grades, is hosted by the iconic Manning family of quarterbacks; UO senior associate athletic director Jeff Hawkins and director of football operations Kyle Wiest are on the camp's administrative staff, and Mariota served as a counselor along with other college players, including former Oregon QB Bryan Bennett.

For Mariota, one of the weekend's highlights was a Q&A session with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and New York Giants QB Eli Manning.

"They talked about everything from throwing 'out' routes to film study, all these different things," Mariota said. "I could go down the whole list of what they talked about, but just the moment, to sit there and say, 'These guys have played in Super Bowls, they're MVPs, and I can sit here and learn from them,' that was pretty cool."

Back in Eugene this week, Mariota was reunited with his Ducks teammates, whom he described as "anxious and excited" for the approaching season.

"I think guys are just ready to get it going again," Mariota said. "You hit these stretches where it gets to the point you just want to put the pads on."

A year ago, Mariota spent the summer preparing to battle Bennett in preseason camp for Oregon's starting job. The two shared as figureheads in summer workouts.

This year, it's all Mariota when the Ducks are on their new turf practice fields for workouts, beneath the looming edifice of the in-progress football operations center.

"It hasn't changed my mentality as a player, but it's changed my mentality as a leader," Mariota said of being Oregon's undisputed starting QB this year. "To help these guys out, and especially help the young guys out — push the pace for them so they're able to come in and learn."

Mariota's personal development has also been a priority, as illustrated by his solitary afternoon with the medicine ball Tuesday. He's up about five pounds from the spring, to 215, and though the development is obvious on his frame, Mariota said he feels as athletic as ever.

"It feels good," he said. "It doesn't feel like it's heavy. I'm looking forward to staying at this weight; especially with the hits I take, it's more comfortable."

In less than three weeks, Mariota will have a chance to test himself further, with the start of preseason camp. A player who last year set UO records for completion percentage (68.5 percent) and total touchdowns (38) — and who is garnering preseason mention as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2013 — can go about putting together an encore.

"It's going to be my third fall camp, which is kind of crazy," Mariota said. "To think about it that way, it's unbelievable, the fact that two years ago I was in the position some of these freshmen are. To be able to relate to them in that sense and help them has really helped me."

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