SPRINGFIELD — All of Springfield Golf Club’s 46 carts were in use Monday morning, with one — fittingly, cart No. 8 — reserved for the guest of honor.
The cart ferried Marcus Mariota up and down the No. 7 fairway as he greeted guests at an inaugural fundraiser for his Motiv8 Foundation. Mariota played the hole 17 times, once with each foursome, while signing jerseys and posing for pictures.
Mariota attacked the 391-yard dogleg from every conceivable angle, going over, around and occasionally through a stand of trees to the right of the fairway.
“Is that how it feels when a DB knocks down a pass?” one golfer wondered, watching Mariota’s tee shot catch an outstretched branch.
“Pretty much,” Mariota said with a smile.
The event was Mariota’s Oregon send-off before he leaves for Tennessee Titans training camp after a stop in his home state of Hawaii. His foundation is still in its infancy, but he hopes to make the Springfield tournament an annual part of its fundraising calendar.
“We’re still kind of learning,” Mariota said. “We’re still really young.”
Mariota started the foundation last year with the goal of helping underprivileged kids in the three places he calls home: Hawaii; Nashville, Tennessee; and Eugene. So far he said the foundation has contributed school supplies for back-to-school drives, partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley and sponsored a showcase for high school football players in Hawaii.
Some athletes take passive roles in their charitable endeavors, but Ed Nishioka, a family friend who assists with the foundation, said the vision is all Mariota’s. The quarterback, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, identifies causes that are personal to him, such as sponsoring the Polynesian Bowl for high school all-stars and paying for 1,000 kids to attend a University of Hawaii football game.
“Our job is to kind of activate his thoughts,” Nishioka said.
Mariota’s first tournament drew roughly 70 golfers, including Chicago Bears center and former Duck Hroniss Grasu and former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. The biggest celebrity was the host, who is preparing for his third NFL season as the Titans quarterback.
Mariota spent his offseason recovering from a fractured fibula suffered in a December loss to Jacksonville. The Titans, poised to make the playoffs at the time of his injury, finished 9-7 and lost a tiebreaker to the Houston Texans in the AFC South.
Now fully recovered, Mariota is looking forward to playing full speed for the first time since his injury when the Titans open camp later this month.
“I’m ready for camp and excited to be part of it,” Mariota said. “I was able to do a lot of the drills and whatnot during offseason OTAs, but I wasn’t able to do any of the full-contact 11-on-11. I’m looking forward to doing that once we get back.”
Mariota will have some new weapons at his disposal with the addition of veteran wide receiver Eric Decker and first-round pick Corey Davis from Western Michigan. The Titans seem likely to be pegged as one of the NFL’s breakthrough teams, and big numbers will be predicted for Mariota after he passed for 6,244 yards and 45 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
“Obviously expectations will always be high,” Mariota said. “They mean nothing until you get out on the field.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on offense, so really we’re just focused on building that chemistry and that foundation that will hopefully make us successful throughout the year.”
Mariota, who lives part time in Eugene and trains at Oregon’s football facilities, credited Oregon’s sports medicine staff for accelerating his recovery. Rehabbing at the Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center was a bit surreal, but the technology proved useful as he worked back from surgery.
That is one more reason Mariota was happy to give back with an afternoon on the golf course.
“I’m very thankful,” he said. “The Oregon athletic medicine staff, they have a million athletes. For them to take the time to work with me, especially during the early months of the year, says a lot about them.
“That’s one of the reasons I come back. It’s a fun community, but at the same time it’s very family-oriented.”