EUGENE, Ore. (Christian Examiner) – Responding to an unlikely sports writer, Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich bragged about his all-star quarterback Marcus Mariota following the Oregon Ducks 44-10 victory, Nov. 22, over Colorado. Mariota had thrown three touchdowns, ran for another and amassed 396 total yards, adding to his portfolio as the favorite for this season's Heisman Trophy. But Helfrich zeroed in on what made Mariota truly special.
"If he went to O'Hara, he would be a great student and a great person and somebody everybody could look up to."
Most news outlets focused on the amusing aspects of the exchange between Helfrich and 12-year-old Charlie Pape, a middle grade student at O'Hara Catholic School. Pape set up his question about whether Helfrich thought Mariota would return for his senior season by saying, there are three or four things talked about on his school campus, "There's Jesus, there's girls and there's Marcus Mariota." This is what went viral from the interview -- in print, airwaves and social media.
Few caught, or maybe did not care about, Helfrich's revelation about the character of the elite quarterback and a hint about Mariota's faith. It's almost a hidden aspect of Mariota's makeup when you check across media sources. But it is not something Mariota hides.
In an interview before the 2014 football season, Mariota told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that "being a football player, faith plays a huge role" in his play on the field.
"When things start to get rough you find comfort in your faith. Knowing that no matter what, you can dust yourself off and be okay. And you know you do it for [God's] glory. You do it for your teammates, your family, but also for His glory and to represent His name," he said.
"Going through the challenges of the season, my faith has been the steadying force that's pushed me, along with my family, my friends and my teammates," he added. "Losing–especially here [at Oregon]–is tough. We have high expectations as a program to go and win national championships. It's a huge pressure, but you learn a lot about yourself through it. Coach [Scott] Frost has helped me learn that football doesn't define me. It's just what I do. That was a huge life lesson for me. I really took that and ran with it. My faith is what keeps me going and I can always grow in that."
He also shared about his burden of wanting to represent God and his family "in the right light." You do that through God's power he said, but also by maintaining fellowship with other Believers who become your family away from home. "We relate to each other as athletes and grow in our faith and as human beings."
He especially credited his relationships in FCA.
"In high school, I learned about God and Jesus Christ, but I wasn't really invested in it," he admitted. "I think coming here I got involved with FCA and [FCA's] Tony [Overstake] and it really introduced me into my walk and into my journey. I'm not perfect, but I'm encouraged every day to continue to open up in my faith.
He was transparent that "no matter what, my faith will guide me. However I play on the field, I know my faith will guide me. After sports, my faith will guide me.
"As I've grown in my faith, that's something that's given me comfort," Mariota shared. "God has taught me that I can trust in Him. No matter what–whether things are good or bad–I know I can always trust in Him. And that has really allowed me to go 'all in for Him.'"