**UPDATE: Mariota was officially introduced as a Tennessee Titan Friday at a press conference. View the full story here.**
After months of speculation and endless rumors, Hawaii’s Marcus Mariota has learned where he’ll be suiting up as an NFL quarterback.
The former Saint Louis football star turned All-American and Heisman Trophy award winner was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the second overall pick. He leaves Thursday night for Nashville.
The annual NFL draft began in Chicago Thursday at 2 p.m. Hawaii time. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was called first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was home in Alabama at the time.
Meanwhile, Mariota, his family and friends gathered at the Saint Louis Alumni Clubhouse in Honolulu to await the call. The event was closed to the public.
“It’s tough to really put in all the emotions and the words. It was a lot of excitement, I was able to talk to Coach Whisenhunt and the rest of the Tennessee Titans coaching staff. They were really excited so it’s a little ways away from home but I’m excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m just blessed to have the opportunity,” he said.
As for what they spoke about during that phone call, Mariota said, “It was more just talking about the future and getting ready to make that move to Nashville and they told me, ‘I hope you’re ready for country music,’ and all that stuff. It was just a lot of conversation and excitement.”
Mariota will meet the media in Nashville Friday and his first mini camp will take place within the next two weeks. Details will be announced at a later date.
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Thursday that he plans to have Mariota start as the team’s QB when the Titans open the season at Tampa Bay Sept. 13 — where Mariota may once again meet up against Jameis Winston, the Bucs’ number-one pick. The last time the two saw each other on the football field, Mariota’s Oregon team soundly defeated Winston’s Florida State team in the Rose Bowl.
But while those jerseys have Mariota’s iconic number 8 on them, his actual number for the Titans has yet to be decided. Number 8 already belongs to Titans kicker Ryan Succop.
Mariota said he cherished the day, surrounded by family, friends and former teammates, all of whom shared his journey and are now sharing his joy.
As he hugged his parents in celebration, Mariota said he made sure to thank them. “Their sacrifices and their hard work is what got me here. So definitely made sure to say thank you and they’re just as happy as I was so it was awesome.”
“It was just so gratifying. It was like having your son up there and being a part of it,” said Mariota’s high school head football coach Darnell Arceneaux. “It couldn’t happen to a better young man and family that deserves all the credit, but he’ll be the first one to point the finger to everyone else and thank them. That’s the kind of guy the Tennessee Titans are getting.”
“It’s a great opportunity for Marcus to be amongst the people that he loves and it’s going to be a special time for him and I think that’s why he wanted to do it here, to be around the people who supported him. Family is so important in Hawaii and Marcus is really a Hawaii guy,” said Saint Louis School director of admissions Russell Valente.
In mock drafts, Mariota was projected to go anywhere from first overall to 10th.
He is the fifth Hawaii high school graduate to be taken in the top 10 in the 80-year history of the NFL draft, and the highest Hawaii draft of any major sport in the country.
Despite the feat, Mariota remained humble. “I’m sure in the future there will be a guy that goes one, and I hope that’s soon because there’s a lot of talent here and it’ll be that day soon so we’ll see,” he said.
Rest assured, the younger generation is watching him closely, many eager to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s really exciting because when I was younger, my brother, he graduated with Marcus and they were both All-State. They were both best friends and my family is close to their family,” said Saint Louis School freshman Stormm Passi. “I was just like the little brother there.”
Kahuku alumnus and current University of Hawaii offensive line coach Chris Naeole says the elite fraternity welcomes a new member.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “(Mariota is a) great kid, great family, I wish him the best.”
Also expecting a call this week are Kahuku graduate Hau’oli Kikaha along with potential late-rounder and former UH running back Joey Iosefa.
Washington linebacker Kikaha was the nation’s leader in sacks with 19.0, as well as a unanimous first team All-American selection. He is projected for a second- or third-round selection.
Viewed as a fullback at the next level, Iosefa has been training in Manoa with longtime trainer Chad Ikei.
The second and third rounds will run Friday starting at 1 p.m. HST, with Saturday’s finale featuring rounds four through seven beginning at 6 a.m. HST.