HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Years ago, before his championship-winning high school football career at Saint Louis had even begun, Marcus Mariota was not unlike the kids who lined up along Kalakaua Avenue on Friday for a chance at an autograph from their favorite player.
"Growing up I went to the NFL Experience at Kapiolani park," said Mariota. "We waited probably an hour or two for Jerry Rice. My dad has been a die-hard San Francisco fan, and I got Jerry Rice's autograph on an Oakland Raiders helmet. And he was, like, totally mad for weeks about it."
Now a Heisman Trophy winner and the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, it was Mariota for whom kids queued outside the Pro Bowl Beach, a sprawling complex the NFL has set up in Waikiki for events leading up to this weekend's game. That fact, Mariota says, is a unique experience.
"To be able to just come out and be a part of the events is truly special," Mariota said. "Hopefully one day I'll be able to play in it."
To do that, Mariota says, there are still significant strides to be made as an NFL quarterback.
"Taking care of the football was probably the biggest thing," said Mariota, when asked what area of his game needed the most improvement as he prepares for his second NFL season. "I think if I can provide our team with more opportunities by taking care of the football, and really just being out on the field and taking care of myself, that's what's going to allow us to win more games."
Mariota, who fumbled the ball 10 times this season and was intercepted 10 others, says preparing for opposing defenses was one of the biggest adjustments he needed to make during his rookie season.
"In college, teams lined up in what you expected and you kind of prepared for it all week," said Mariota. "From that standpoint, I think it was probably the biggest surprise, but that was kind of an expectation as well. I think I've learned a lot in that aspect, and I'll be prepared more for it next year."
Mariota, who said Friday he plans to spend part of his offseason training at the University of Oregon, has plenty of time to get ready for his second year as a Titan. For now? He's happy to be home for the Pro Bowl.
"This past year was kind of a whirlwind," said Mariota. "From the national championship, to the draft process, to my rookie season, so it's nice to kind of unwind and take some time off."