'Throwin' Samoan' rooting for Marcus Mariota

Gruden's QB Camp: Marcus Mariota (1:49)

At Jon Gruden's QB Camp, former Ducks QB Marcus Mariota executes 'Spider 2 Y Banana.' (1:49)

As he watched Marcus Mariota receive the Heisman Trophy in December, one thought kept running through Jack Thompson's head.

"I just kept saying, 'He's Samoan. He's Samoan. He's Samoan,'" Thompson said.

It's a matter of pride for Thompson, a former NFL quarterback known as "The Throwin' Samoan." Mariota, who was born and raised in Hawaii, also comes from Samoan ancestry. His father was born in Samoa.

"Marcus is a far better quarterback than I ever was," said Thompson, who was born in Samoa and moved to the Seattle area as a child. "Marcus is going to have a great NFL career. My heritage is very important to me and I can't tell you how proud it makes me to see what Marcus has done and what he will do."

Mariota is expected to be picked early in the draft, perhaps even No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That gives him something else in common with Thompson, who was picked No. 3 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1979.

Thompson's career didn't work out the way he and the Bengals envisioned. He started only five games in four seasons with Cincinnati. He then went on to Tampa Bay for two seasons and was the starter in 1983.

Thompson, 58, sees a much brighter future for Mariota. He thinks the University of Oregon quarterback is a can't-miss prospect.

"He's 6-foot-4 and he can throw the ball," said Thompson, now a banker in Seattle. "And let's not forget he runs the 40 [yard dash] in 4.57 seconds. He's a special talent."

Thompson, a Washington State product, should know. Living in the Pacific Northwest, Thompson got to see a lot of Mariota in college.

"I followed him about as closely as a Cougar can follow a Duck," Thompson said.

When he met Mariota at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in Honolulu in January, Thompson wasn't disappointed. Mariota was being honored as the College Football Player of the Year and Thompson, a member of the Hall's first class, came away even more impressed than he had been by watching Mariota on the football field.

"He's a class act," Thompson said. "You won't find a guy more centered than Marcus."

But Thompson has heard the critics. They say Mariota will struggle in a pro-style offense because he ran a no-huddle, spread offense in college. Thompson doesn't see that as a problem.

"It's easy to say he doesn't have the drop-back pedigree," Thompson said. "The question is, does he have ability to become that? I think he does. All he's proven is he's been able to master a certain style of football. He has the physical stature to morph into the drop-back passer. He has the arm and he has the intelligence. I think he'll be able to assimilate any offense that's thrust upon him."

Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are considered the best quarterbacks in this draft. Winston has played in a pro-style offense and has very few on-field questions. Instead, Winston comes with questions about his character and maturity after being involved in off-field incidents during college.

That's just one reason why Thompson thinks the Bucs should take Mariota with the first pick.

"You know exactly what you're getting," Thompson said. "There are no surprises. I think he is the perfect package of what you want in a quarterback. I think he would be a perfect fit with [Buccaneers coach] Lovie Smith. I think their personalities are in sync. They're both kind of laid-back on the surface, but they both have a strong work ethic and they're competitors.

"I have no doubt who I would pick. I would grab Marcus Mariota and I think I would be very happy with that for the next 10 or 15 years."

Thompson, of course, admitted that he's biased when it comes to Mariota. After all, they're both Samoan.