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Heisman in good hands with Mariota

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Breaking Down The Heisman Voting Results (1:27)

Joe Tessitore discusses the wide margin of victory for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. (1:27)

NEW YORK -- You can exhale now, America. This Heisman Trophy winner you can bring home to Mom.

Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota won the 80th Heisman Memorial Trophy Award on Saturday night the way he won most of his 35 victories as a starter over the past three seasons: in a rout. If the voting had been a game, Mariota would have sat out the last quarter.

"Rout" might be kind. Mariota received 788 first-place votes of 894 cast. With point totals awarded on a 3-2-1 basis, Mariota finished with 2,534 points, more than twice as many as the runner-up, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon, who edged Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, in third.

Mariota received 90.9 percent of the total possible points, the second-highest total in the history of the award. Only 10 voters didn't have Mariota on their ballot.

"I am humbled to be standing here today," Mariota said before thanking his teammates, coaches, teachers, fans and pretty much everyone in Eugene and his home state of Hawaii. His voice stayed strong until he got to his parents, Toa Mariota and Alana-Deppe Mariota.

"Words cannot express what you truly mean to me," Mariota croaked. They didn't have to. That Mariota couldn't choke out the words said everything.

After the television ceremony, teachers and other friends from his Honolulu St. Louis High waited outside the news conference with Hawaiian and Samoan leis they brought from home. Mariota came to the podium laden with greenery.

"It's hard not to be emotional," Mariota said. "It's been a long journey. For all those people who helped me out, and to support me and believe in me, it just means the world. My emotions got the best of me. ... I'm just so grateful. I can't emphasize it enough. I'm just so thankful for so many people. This isn't a one-person deal. It's a lot of people who put their heart and their hard work into it."

Mariota won the award on the field, leading the No. 2 Ducks to a 12-1 record, a Pac-12 conference championship and a College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 3 Florida State. His statistics speak for themselves, but let's not give them the floor just yet.

Mariota's victory Saturday night is a victory for every coach and parent who wants the Outstanding College Football Player in the United States, as the plaque on the trophy reads, to be a role model for good behavior, not bad.

"If boys and girls across the country, as I was a boy watching the Heisman presentation," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said, "need somebody to look up to ... to how this guy works and his humility and his excellence, his competitiveness, it's a great thing for all those young people. Great thing."

Mariota's life and career serve as a rebuttal to the actions of the past two Heisman winners, who at the very least failed to meet minimum standards expected of mature young men. Johnny Manziel flouted the NCAA rules about signing autographs. And Jameis Winston -- really, where do you start?

Perhaps in fairness, we should point out that Mariota made headlines last month after being cited by Oregon state police for driving too fast.

"His big negative," Nike co-founder and Oregon superbooster Phil Knight said last week, "is that he got a speeding ticket for going 80 in a 55 at 12:30 at night. What they didn't tell is that he was coming back from a speech he gave to the Boys and Girls Club. He hung out with the kids too long."

Knight's eyes lit up when asked about Mariota. Everyone around him reacts the same way. Ducks fifth-year senior guard Hamani Stevens tried to think of something Mariota has done wrong.

"Besides getting a speeding ticket," Stevens said, "I think he didn't say, 'Bless you,' when someone sneezed."

Mariota didn't do much wrong on the field, either. His award is vindication after 2013, when a midseason knee injury removed him from the front of the Heisman pack. Historically, it is vindication for his region. Mariota is the first Oregon player to win the award, the first player from the Pacific Northwest to win since Terry Baker of Oregon State in 1962, and the first native of Hawaii to win, as well.

And now, the numbers. The native of Honolulu threw or ran for 52 touchdowns this season. He also caught a touchdown pass. He threw for 3,783 yards and completed nearly seven of every 10 passes (68.3 percent). Perhaps his most impressive statistic is that he threw only two interceptions in 372 attempts.

But numbers don't do Mariota any more justice than a photo of a bakery conveys what's inside. Stevens, who has started in front of Mariota for the past two years, said it's hard for the offensive linemen to focus on assignments while watching video.

"We always catch ourselves not even paying attention to what we should be doing," Stevens said, "looking at, 'Dang, did you see Marcus?'"

At 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, Mariota has the size and arm strength to make all the throws. He runs faster than a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, and his ability to move in and out of the pocket regularly produces something out of nothing.

Ask David Shaw.

"If he doesn't win it," the Stanford coach said last week of Mariota, "I may never say the word Heisman again."

That's the level of respect for Mariota in the Pac-12. Keep in mind that Shaw's Cardinal are the only team to have a winning record against Mariota. In three seasons as a starter, Mariota went 1-2 against Stanford, 2-2 against Arizona, and 32-0 against everyone else.

This from a guy who got only two other offers coming out of Honolulu St. Louis High: Washington and Memphis.

"When you're a sophomore and junior in high school," Mariota said, "and you're not playing, and you're seeing guys in your class getting recruited and committing to schools, I thought this wasn't the right sport for me. My family and a lot of my closest friends said, 'Just stick it out, you'll be all right.'"

Helfrich found Mariota while looking at video of the guy starting ahead of him, Jeremy Higgins. Mariota played a few plays a game. In the spring, Helfrich went to Hawaii to eyeball Mariota.

Describing the discovery, Helfrich said, "You don't make the gold. You say, 'Hey, there's the gold.'"

The coaches and players who have studied and sweated and excelled with him for the past four years tell stories that will stay with you long after the numbers fade.

Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost recalled Mariota and his family dining out in Eugene two days before a game last year.

"He noticed a couple of guys who had run out of gas across the street," Frost said. "He and his brother left the table, went out and pushed the car 2½ blocks, and came back. ... And they didn't recognize him. He'd rather have it that way."

There was the time that Ducks linebacker Tony Washington's car broke down 90 minutes from campus.

"I needed some transmission fluid," Washington said. "My car wouldn't move at all. It would just go backwards. I was on the side of the road for about an hour. I was trying to contact some people.

"Next thing you know, Marcus, Josh Huff and Bronson Yim rolled up with the transmission fluid, got it into my car and I was able to get to the gas station and make it all the way to Eugene. I remember, at the gas station, trying to give Marcus gas money for coming out. I didn't even know he was coming. He would not let me give [him] any gas money. It was an hour and a half out from Eugene. It wasn't like it was 10 minutes down the road. I threw the money in the car and ran off."

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott tells a story about an Oregon staff member trying to yank Mariota off the field and toward the locker room after a game, and Mariota pushing him away.

"A kid was there asking for his autograph," Scott said. "Those kind of things when not a lot of people are looking speak volumes as to someone's character. I think that's who he is."

Mariota's gentleness and lack of ego is a reflection of the island culture in his native Hawaii (he is the first Heisman winner from the 50th state). In his first couple of years as the starting quarterback, Mariota constantly had Helfrich in his ear, telling him to assert his leadership. Helfrich used to stand behind the offense during practice and constantly say to Mariota, "Body language. Body language."

Mariota is still quiet. But as he has grown up, he has shown his ability to lead.

"I do believe that there are different types of leadership," Mariota said. "People respond differently to different things. Sometimes, just showing that you care for somebody means so much more than yelling at them."

"There are times when he has to get vocal and has to take charge," Stevens said. "When he does that, it sends a little shiver down your spine. 'Man, Marcus is actually yelling at us! This has got to be big! Something's gotta be wrong, because he's never talking.' But when he does, everyone knows, and it changes real quick. I think the whole season, he's done that probably three times, which is a good thing. If he had to do it more, we'd probably be in trouble."

The award Saturday night completes a week in which Mariota also won the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Over the next four weeks, Mariota will have to handle more attention than he has ever received, all while trying to lead the Ducks to the program's first national championship in the first College Football Playoff.

Those who know him expect he will keep his head down and do his job, attracting attention only for what happens on the field. Except that now America knows who he is.

"He's just such a great guy. You hear about other quarterbacks around the country doing this or that," Stevens said. "He treats everyone the same. He doesn't act like he has anything. He's contending for the Heisman. You wouldn't even know it. You could sit next to him on the bus and you wouldn't even know it."

You have to think, after Saturday night, it will be harder for Mariota to hide.