LOS ANGELES -- Making the decision to bypass another year of college eligiblity is usually a tough one for most prospects unless they're a lock to be taken in the top 10 of the NFL draft or go by the name of Johnny Manziel.
When Marcus Mariota decided to return to Oregon for another season running the Ducks' offense, it was likewise portrayed as a tough one to pass up the potential of millions of dollars. As it turns out, it wasn't all that much of a choice for the potential first-round pick.
"A lot of things played into it. First and foremost, I wanted to get my degree. My family has always valued my education. My major (general sciences) factored into me coming back," Mariota said Wednesday at Pac-12 Media Days. "Secondly I just wanted to come back and enjoy college. You experience so many things and I wasn't ready to leave that yet."
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback was considered by most to be the Heisman Trophy front-runner until he injured his knee in the middle of the season. Mariota became more conservative running the ball and his accuracy suffered as the Ducks faltered in losses to Stanford and Arizona that not only took the team out of the national title picture but put Mariota on the backburner until draft season heated up.
Listening to the reserved and relaxed Hawaiian speak, you'd think he would have agonized over the potential to set his family up financially for life. Instead, Mariota calmly downplayed the NFL at every turn. He confirmed he took out an insurance policy but refused to disclose for how much, as just one example.
Mariota also refused to confirm that 2014 would be his final season in Eugene, as he would have one more year of eligiblity if he opts to bypass the 2015 NFL Draft. Still, reading between the lines, it seems clear he has an eye on a professional football future sooner rather than later.
"I learned last year that my footwork played a lot into my accuracy and consistency. I wanted to focus on that this offseason and to just focus on some snaps under center," said Mariota. "I do play in a spread offense and in order to translate into the NFL, I'll have to take snaps under center. I'm just getting my feet wet in that regard."
In many respects, that decision to come back and get his degree will pay off in the long run for Mariota, but the fact that he'll have additional time to work on skills that translate better in the NFL, like going under center, might be just as valuable in the short term.