Five Heisman Trophy winners join for youth football clinic at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Lynne McCracken)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Marcus Mariota worked out with his NFL teammates on Thursday, and then joined another team later in the day – the Heisman team.
They were equally happy to see him.
"He is a great young man,'' Billy Sims, the 1978 Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma and a three-time Pro Bowler with the Lions, said of the Titans quarterback. "He handles himself with class and he treats people well, and that is what matters most – even more than football.
"He's not thinking about it now, but one day the football part is going to be over with. And it's what he does now, while he's in the spotlight, that's so important. People remember how you treat other people and how you handle yourself. I think I realized that even more after I retired. Coach (Barry) Switzer always told me, 'Once your career is over with, the folks you treat the right way along the way are still going to be there for you', and you can see he treats people well. Marcus represents himself very well. He's a fine young man."
Mariota and four other Heisman Trophy winners took part in a football clinic for youth on Thursday night at Nissan Stadium in conjunction with the Heisman Trophy Trust and Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee. On Friday, as part of Nissan's ongoing collaboration with Habitat for Humanity and the Heisman Trust, the Heisman Trophy winners joined a Habitat for Humanity construction crew to build a new home in Nashville.
In addition to Mariota and Sims, Heisman Trophy winners Tim Brown (1987), Mark Ingram (2009) and George Rogers (1980) are also participating in the two-day event.
Mariota, who won the 2014 Heisman Trophy after a standout season at Oregon, received some special attention in Nashville on Thursday night from the group. They playfully pushed him into the middle of a photo shoot at the stadium, and Brown was decked out in a shirt with Mariota's name taped on it.
"He is a great kid, and that is the thing you love about him,'' Brown, a nine-time Pro Bowler who racked up nearly 15,000 receiving yards with the Raiders, said of Mariota. "You know he is going to make the right decisions, and is going to do the right thing. The football part is what it is, and it is going to come natural. The best thing about a rookie is they become second-year players, so he can take all that experience from last year and become a much better player and he will because he has the talent to do that. And with all the talent the Titans are going to get around him now, he is going to be able to do great things in the future. It's going to be fun for the fans here in Nashville to watch him grow."
Ingram, set to begin his sixth season with the New Orleans Saints after starring at Alabama, said Mariota made a great impression on the Heisman fraternity from the beginning.
Now, he's just one of the guys, he said.
"Ever since I watched him in college, his speeches, his Heisman acceptance speech,'' Ingram said of Mariota, "he has always been a real humble guy. He is very likeable.
"And I think he is going to be a great QB. He has a good arm, he can run, he is mature enough to run the offense and make calls, and make audibles at the line of scrimmage. From what I saw out of his rookie year he has grown a lot and he is going to continue to grow and get better and get more confidence."
Rogers, a two-time Pro Bowler who played for Saints and Redskins after an outstanding college career at South Carolina, agreed.
"He is a great kid, and you can tell that being around him for a short time,'' Rogers said of Mariota. "And he is a great player. They need a few more pieces around him."
Mariota said it's been a thrill to get to know the other Heisman Trophy winners. He's spent time with them at different events over the last 1 ½ years.
"It is something I won't take lightly,'' Mariota said. "Any time I have an opportunity spend time with the Heisman crew, it is such a blessing.
"When I was going through the whole process last year, through the Heisman presentation and everything, they were so welcoming. Guys would come up and made me and my family feel like a part of the group. I look forward to getting to know them even more as my career moves forward."
A Hall of Famer, Brown predicted big things to come from Mariota following a season when he set franchise records for most touchdowns (19), completions (230), passing yards (2,818) and passing attempts (370) in his first NFL season despite missing four games with knee injuries.
Brown said other Titans, of course, will need to play well around him.
"Marcus is a rare guy, but the thing is he can make a perfect pass, and if they don't catch it, guess what?,'' Brown said. "Guys have to do their job around him. The thing for him is he has gain a rapport with a couple of guys on the offensive side of the ball, and know those guys are going to take care of him at all times. And you have to rely on those guys. If you look at all the great quarterbacks, they all have their go-to guys. He needs to establish that as quickly as he can and work on it."
TitansOnline.com looks back at the 2015 rookie season of Titans QB Marcus Mariota. (AP Photos)