Four years’ time and 2,000 miles distant from where they once seemed locked on a collision course, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel finally meet up on a football field.
Sunday in Cleveland it will be Mariota and the Tennessee Titans against Manziel and the Browns on national TV, two Heisman Trophy winners and rivals trying to carve out a place in the NFL.
“We’ve met a few times along the way of this crazy journey,” Mariota said this week. “I met him in high school, college and (again) just recently.”
In the summer of 2010 the showdown they appeared headed for was the future quarterback job at the University of Oregon. They first crossed paths in the Ducks’ summer camp in Eugene, Ore., and over an intense week in June, the two high school juniors-to-be were competing for Oregon scholarships.
Mariota was the 6-foot, 4-inch skinny, reserved kid from Hawaii who had yet to start a game for Saint Louis School. Manziel was the 6-foot, 1-inch, already brash kid from the Texas hill country confidently sporting the yellow Oregon T-shirt.
Both emerged from camp accepting scholarships from the Ducks, Manziel was offered first and then Mariota. Along with a highly touted prospect from Florida, Jerrard Randall, the competition seemed set for years to come. “There was quite a possibility (of being teammates), but we ended up going different ways,” Mariota said this week.
“I just want to go in there and compete,” Mariota told Rivals.com with characteristic determination at the time. “Everybody has a fair shot at the job. It’s only going to make us better as quarterbacks to go in and compete and work hard and push each other.”
Manziel later de-committed to play closer to home when an offer arrived from Texas A&M. Randall failed to gain entrance and went to LSU before transferring to Arizona.
In 2012, as a redshirt freshman, Mariota beat out the heir apparent, sophomore Bryan Bennett, for the Ducks job and rivaled Manziel, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, among a promising group of freshman quarterbacks that season.
By that time Manziel was the rock star “Johnny Football” and Mariota was, as he often said, “Just Marcus, please.”
Manziel left college a year earlier than Mariota and became a first-round pick of the Browns in 2013. A year later, Mariota had his own bronze Heisman statue, and with Manziel coming out of rehab, speculation was Cleveland, which had two first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft to dangle, wanted to trade up to acquire him.
But Tennessee, which owned the second overall pick in the draft, was sold on Mariota, who is the face of the franchise as a rookie. Manziel, making his third start in two years, gets the start after Josh McCown suffered a concussion last week.
Now, a week after Mariota outdueled 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Tampa Bay, it is Heisman vs. Heisman, again.
Manziel said, “Two guys who had careers like we did in college, both Heisman Trophy winners, I think it is cool. I think it makes obviously for a little bit of excitement. …”
HEAD-TO-HEAD HEISMANS (HEISMAN QB BATTLES IN THE NFL SINCE 2010)
|DATE||ROAD TEAM STARTER||HOME TEAM STARTER||WINNER|
|9/13/2015||Marcus Mariota (Tennessee)||Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay)||Tennessee, 42-14|
|12/21/2014||Johnny Manziel (Cleveland)||Cam Newton (Carolina)||Carolina, 17-13|
|10/20/2013||Sam Bradford (St. Louis)||Cam Newton (Carolina)||Carolina, 30-15|
|10/06/2013||Cam Newton (Carolina)||Carson Palmer (Arizona)||Arizona, 22-6|
|9/08/2013||Carson Palmer (Arizona)||Sam Bradford (St. Louis)||St. Louis, 27-24|
|12/23/2012||Carson Palmer (Oakland)||Cam Newton (Carolina)||Carolina, 17-6|
|11/04/2012||Cam Newton (Carolina)||Robert Griffin III (Washington)||Carolina, 21-13|
|9/16/2012||Robert Griffin III (Washington)||Sam Bradford (St. Louis)||St. Louis, 31-28|
|11/06/2011||Tim Tebow (Denver)||Carson Palmer (Oakland)||Denver, 38-24|
|12/26/2010||Troy Smith (San Francisco)||Sam Bradford (St. Louis)||St. Louis, 25-17|
|11/14/2010||Sam Bradford (St. Louis)||Troy Smith (San Francisco)||San Francisco, 23-20|
|Source: Tennessee Titans|
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 529-4820.