A lot of the kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley of Eugene, Oregon, aren’t sure what the Heisman Trophy is all about, but they know it probably doesn’t have anything to do with air hockey.

They know this because everybody says their friend Marcus Mariota is up for the Heisman and, well, they beat him pretty good at table hockey.

“They know that he is in the running for some big award, but a lot of them don’t understand what the Heisman is,” said Kassey Mosher, the club’s executive director.

“But they want him — they call him ‘our Marcus’ — to win it,” she said.

Mariota, the Oregon quarterback is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman, symbolic of the nation’s top college football player, Saturday in New York, where he will be one of three finalists.

They know that he is in the running for some big award, but a lot of them don’t understand what the Heisman is. But they want him — they call him ‘our Marcus’ — to win it.
— Kassey Mosher

But in southwest Eugene, about two miles from the Oregon campus, where he volunteers to work with youngsters ages 5 and up, Mariota is known as a friendly face, an easy mark in air hockey and a shoulder to lean on. Even if it is more than six feet off the ground.

Mosher said that largely entails playing games and activities with the kids, but also listening and, sometimes, being a mentor.

“They tell him about their ballet recitals, soccer games, whatever is going on in their lives,” Mosher said. And, on occasion, he passes on life lessons.

Mosher said Mariota counseled one boy recently on bullying, handing down advice gained from his father Toa. In another instance, Mosher said she had Mariota talk to a youngster who had been scribbling four-letter words.

Mosher said Mariota told the boy that if he’d done that while growing up, “his mother would have washed his mouth out with soap.” After their talk, Mosher said the boy promised never to do it again “because he didn’t want to disappoint Marcus.”

She said they know Mariota less as a three-time All-Pac-12 quarterback and No. 8 for the No. 2 Ducks and more “as a friend.”

“I think Marcus likes it that way, too,” Mosher said. “Here, he can just be Marcus, have fun and be a kid again.”

Mariota came to the Club as part of the “O Heroes” program, which places athletes in the community. But Mariota just kept coming back, rarely missing a week except for final exams. “Sometimes he drags along some of his teammates, too,” Mosher said.

Mariota said, “It’s fun for me, too. I learn a lot from them.”

When Mariota celebrated his 21st birthday recently, the Club threw a surprise party.

“It wasn’t much of a surprise because they were all talking about it,” Mosher said.

Mariota winning the Heisman, Mosher said, “Would be huge.”

However it goes, Mosher is sure of one thing: “They’ll wait for him to show up again next week.”

A final glance at the Heisman race