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Natural-born leader

All eyes will be on dual-threat Ducks QB Marcus Mariota


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Marcus Mariota, the Oregon Ducks returning starter at quarterback, says he learned from watching Alabamas A.J. McCarron at a summer camp.Eugene — Oregon’s training camp opens Aug. 5, and quarterback Marcus Mariota has been adjusting to being the front-and-center star.

“It’s still something I’m getting used to,” he says. “Being a kid from Hawaii, you never expect yourself to be the face of the program.

“That’s all outside stuff to me. That’s noise. That’s not what’s going on out there on the field. My main focus is to get better with teammates and ready for the season.”

The sophomore recently returned from the Manning Passing Academy, where he hobnobbed with the likes of Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. He’ll join Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at Friday’s Pac-12 media day — Mariota and Ekpre-Olomu, another sophomore, being rare underclassmen to represent the Ducks at the event in Los Angeles.

Although De’Anthony Thomas could emerge as UO’s Heisman Trophy candidate, if Mariota duplicates his stellar rookie season, expect the 6-4, 215-pound dual-threat QB to be mentioned among the country’s top college players all season. Save for a bad game against Stanford last season, Mariota might have been a redshirt freshman Heisman finalist along with Manziel, the winner.

Mariota has been leading UO players through summer workouts and 7-on-7 drills, while working to gain weight (and not lose speed), and following coaches’ orders, to be more vocal.

“I have to step up as a leader,” he says.

Says linebacker Boseko Lokombo: “He’s always been a quiet, humble kid. But he’s stepping up. I always hear him talking to the players, joking around. He’s a tremendous leader, a natural leader. Everybody comes around him.”

• At the Manning camp, Mariota says he watched and learned from McCarron, who has won two national titles with the Tide.

“It’s pretty cool sitting and saying, ‘A.J. has won it,’ ” he says. “To see how he handles himself ... I can pick and choose the situations and kind of emulate what he does. He’s very well-spoken; he does well with his leadership role. He understands what he has to do to make his team better.”

• True freshmen have been working out in Eugene, and maybe the most impressive newcomer has been linebacker/defensive end Torrodney Prevot, 6-3, 215 and from Houston.

“Torrodney is doing really good, showing that he’s not afraid of anything,” Ekpre-Olomu says.

Meanwhile, Aloha High running back Thomas Tyner has been working out and learning the offense, Mariota says. The ballyhooed Tyner shows his speed, but Mariota holds off judgment on him until training camp.

“He’s like all the other freshmen, coming along well,” the QB says. “We’re going to see what else he can pick up, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Of the newcomers, one will immediately join the competition for playing time: kicker/punter Matt Wogan of North Carolina.

“He’s got a very strong leg,” says Alejandro Maldonado, his competition.

• The Ducks’ new football center will be a work-in-progress throughout camp, with the expectation that everybody can move in by the start of the season.

For now, one thing’s for certain: It’s black. So is the Moshofsky Center and Casanova Center, as the UO puts a makeover on its color scheme. Large, almost neonish yellow O-R-E-G-O-N dons the sides of buildings.

“At first, I thought it looked like a jail, one of those jail cells because of the texture,” Lokombo says, of the football center. “But I like it a lot.”

Ekpre-Olomu likes the black-and-yellow.

“It makes the Mo Center a lot cooler. it’s really flashy, the yellow really stands out.”

Also, two complete, artificial turf practice fields have been installed next to the football center, along with a 50-yard grass field. All are completely surrounded by permanent fencing. No peeking, folks.

n Lokombo says players are staying busy this summer, working out and having some fun. The players have next week off before convening in Eugene for camp.

“Fishing, and we went (inner-)tubing just the other day,” he says. “People have been floating the river. I haven’t had a chance to do that.”

Offensive linemen and roommates Hroniss Grasu (6-3, 295) and Jake Fisher (6-6, 295) have been hot-and-heavy on the golf course.