Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, whose bold moves and leadership on the field brought the Ducks to the brink of a national championship before falling short, is leaving Oregon early for the NFL.
Mariota announced his long-awaited decision to forgo his senior season on Oregon's website. The team said he filed paperwork on Wednesday, a day before the NFL deadline.
"I will miss being with my teammates," he said in a statement. "Being a part of this team was something special that I will always treasure."
Mariota has been the humble leader of Oregon's high-flying offense for three seasons. This season, the Ducks (13-2) defeated Florida State at the Rose Bowl in college football's first playoffs, but fell 42-20 to Ohio State in Monday night's national championship game.
The 6-foot-4 dual threat from Hawaii won every major award he qualified for, starting with the Heisman, as well as AP Player of the Year, the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. He set a conference record for most touchdowns in a single season with 58; 42 via pass, 15 on the run and a touchdown catch.
His passing touchdowns set a Pac-12 single-season record. He also set the conference's career mark for career touchdowns with 136.
He threw at least one touchdown pass in all 41 college games he played in at Oregon, starting in every one of his appearances. And he's one of just four quarterbacks in FBS history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 in his career.
"It's been an honor to watch Marcus develop over the last four years, and I'm excited to see what his future holds," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in a statement. "He's given this program everything we could have asked, and he'll be the standard by which others are judged. Mahalo."
Led by Mariota, Oregon finished No. 2 in this season's final AP rankings. Overall, the Ducks ranked third in the nation in total offense with an average of 547 yards per game. The Ducks' passing offense under Mariota was ranked 10th nationally with an average of 312.5 yards a game. Mariota's passer efficiency rating (181.7) topped the nation.
Mariota was known for his steady demeanor from the start. Off the field, he was shy and unassuming, but he stayed on the field following every game to shake hands and pose for pictures.
Mariota said before Monday's season finale that he would trade his Heisman for a national championship, but it wasn't to be. In the final game he threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
"My main focus was to be a great teammate," he said following the game. "That's all I hoped to accomplish. I don't really care about legacies."
Mariota was a three-star recruit for the Ducks out of St. Louis High School in Honolulu. He is fiercely proud of his roots: His helmet facemask was designed to include the numbers 8-0-8 in a nod to the state's area code, and following the national championship his family gifted him with stacks of leis that he wore in the locker room.
"I think you could argue that this was the best, if not certainly one of the top two or three greatest seasons in college football history," Helfrich said of Mariota following the game. "And then you add in the person and the legacy that he has from that standpoint, and there has never been one greater. None."
Three plays this season exemplified Mariota's ability to create on the football field.
Among his four touchdowns in Oregon's victory over Wyoming was an acrobatic second-quarter keeper where he somersaulted into the end zone over receiver Keanon Lowe and a Cowboys defender.
Then there was an inspired shovel pass to freshman running back Royce Freeman that gave the Ducks a key first down in a victory over then-No. 7 Michigan State.
And although the Ducks would lose 31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2, Mariota got creative to start the second quarter when he handed off to Freeman, who lobbed the ball back to Mariota for a 28-yard touchdown.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio summed Mariota up this way: "What he does is lead. What he shows is toughness. And what he does is create."
Mariota's departure leaves the Ducks with uncertainty at quarterback.
He backup this season and heir apparent for the job - at least for now - is Jeff Lockie, a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore. He attempted 27 passes this season, completing 21 for 207 yards and a touchdown.
Others waiting in the wings include current redshirt Morgan Mahalak, Georgia Tech transfer Ty Griffin and recruit Travis Waller.
Mariota is the second Oregon player to declare for the NFL draft with eligibility left.
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead filed paperwork to make in official Tuesday.