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Younger brother Matt Mariota and other Hawaiian football players to follow Marcus Mariota to Oregon Ducks

Marcus Mariota’s remarkable story has led to a sequel of sorts.

The project’s working title: Hawaii Five-O(regon).

Mariota, the quarterback from the Aloha State, became Oregon’s first Heisman Trophy winner and led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win and an appearance in the national championship game last season.

Now the Ducks have welcomed five freshmen from Hawaii to fall camp, all on defense.

The headliner of the entire 2015 recruiting class is Canton Kaumatule. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound lineman from Honolulu is expected to have an immediate effect on the Ducks’ defense with Arik Armstead having departed early for the NFL.

Two other scholarship players, strong safety Dylan Kane (Kamehameha High) and defensive lineman Rex Manu (Mililan High), figure prominently in defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s long-term plans.

The Ducks also have a pair of walk-on linebackers from Hawaii — Kaulana Apelu (Aiea High) and Matt Mariota (Saint Louis High), the younger brother of Marcus.

Mark Helfrich, who famously called Chip Kelly from the shadow of Diamond Head seeking permission to offer a scholarship to the elder Mariota, said Oregon’s success recruiting in Hawaii this year wasn’t a coincidence.

“Definitely being able to have a foot in the door and just having that way to identify with a guy from home has been big,” Helfrich said. “We’re getting in on more higher-quality guys (in Hawaii) than ever before. That’s a good thing.”

Marcus Mariota is now the face of the Tennessee Titans after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

The Ducks’ top NFL prospect this season is another soft-spoken, hard-working player from Hawaii — defensive end DeForest Buckner. The 6-7, 290-pound senior from Waianae could have been an early round pick after a dominant 2014 campaign, but he decided to return to lead Oregon’s defense.

“Every chance I get I try to help out the younger guys and look at what they’re doing wrong,” Buckner said. “Even in the film room when coach is going over film and everything, I’ll notice something little and I’ll scoot over to them in the meeting room.”

Buckner, who went to the same high school (Punahou) as Kaumatule, is the perfect mentor for the mainland newcomers.

“It’s great just knowing that he’s already projected to be a first-round draft pick,” Kaumatule said. “I’m watching his every move now. Whatever he does is what I’m going to do to pattern my game after him.”

Kaumatule, a five-star recruit, and his friends were inspired by Mariota’s emotional acceptance speech last December at the Heisman ceremony. He celebrated the Heisman news in true Hawaiian style before enrolling at Oregon for the winter term.

“Marcus had a huge impact, especially his speech at the Heisman Trophy ceremony touched a lot of people’s hearts. A lot of people want to be here now because of him,” Kaumatule said. “We were all at the beach. Everybody was going crazy. It was fun.”

Leaving Hawaii to live independently for the first time on the mainland can be a culture shock. Oregon typically has veteran Polynesian players who are happy to welcome the next generation to their new football family.

Senior tight end Koa Ka’ai, who leaned on former Ducks Wade Keliikipi and Mana Greig for guidance early in his career, reached out to the new players over the summer.

“Everybody gets homesick,” said Ka’ai, who played at Kamehameha High in Honolulu. “The first week they were out here I had them all over to the house for a barbecue, kind of like a welcome to Oregon thing. I’ve been trying to mentor them as much as I can.”

Helfrich and about half of his staff made trips to Hawaii before signing day in February. Thirty percent of Pellum’s defensive players in the 2015 class, plus the two walk-ons, are from the islands.

“I really don’t know, that’s a good question,” Pellum said when asked about the effect Mariota-mania has had on the roster.

“We’re recruiting really good players and they happen to be Polynesian. Obviously getting Matt here, Marcus was instrumental in that. Some of the other kids, I really couldn’t say that.”

‘He reminds me of Marcus’

Following in the footsteps of a famous older sibling can be difficult. So why did Matt Mariota decide to join the Ducks?

Well, he had already felt like a part of them for years.

Matt and his parents, Toa and Alana, attended most of Marcus’ games and have been fixtures in Eugene since No. 8 arrived on campus in 2011.

“I think he loves it. He loves the whole … everything,” Helfrich said of the 6-2, 248-pound linebacker with a familiar smile. “He’s been to so many great games where the crowd has been fantastic. His whole experience was so positive from both a football standpoint, a university standpoint and a community standpoint.”

The younger Mariota, who wears No. 2 and is not made available by Oregon for interviews, isn’t on the team as a favor to the family.

According to coaches and teammates, the kid can play.

In one of Oregon’s official practice reports, Matt Mariota was credited with an interception of Vernon Adams.

“Matt Mariota is a pretty good football player,” Pellum said. “When you evaluate a high school player you don’t know the system and exactly what they’ve been taught. But the thing we’ve discovered early is he’s extremely bright, he has a very sharp football IQ. So you can see him making plays and they’re very instinctive, but there’s some knowledge involved.

“As time progresses, I think he’s going to be a really good player, but it’s still very early.”

Even Marcus Mariota took a redshirt year before bursting onto the national scene and becoming a legendary figure at Oregon. Unless Matt Mariota can help the Ducks immediately on special teams, he’ll probably spend the fall learning behind a deep and senior-led group of linebackers.

“I think that’s one thing Matt considered when he was deciding where to go was where he felt comfortable,” Ka’ai said. “He spent four years getting to know everybody and hanging out here a lot with his brother. I think it has been an easy transition for him compared to some other freshmen. He knows a bunch of guys here and he’s comfortable with the town.

“He looks good. Lots of room to grow, but he looks solid.”

Kaumatule has much in common with Matt Mariota. His brother Luke was a star player in high school and is currently a senior outside linebacker at Stanford.

“I’m always with Matt a lot. He’s a great kid, like a brother,” Kaumatule said. “He’s well-spoken and a great role model already. He reminds me of Marcus. I know what it’s like to be in the shadow of an older brother, and it can be stressful. It’s kind of a good stress because your brother has made such a great name for the family.

“For a guy who is basically just like Marcus, it shouldn’t be too hard for him.”

‘A sense of pride’

Marcus Mariota’s speech in New York didn’t just hit home in Hawaii. His heartfelt words were also the inspiration for the dazzling Heisman display in the Hatfield-Dowlin Center designed by Todd Van Horne, the global vice president and creative director for Nike football.

The eight-tiered exhibit, in honor of Mariota’s No. 8 and the eight islands of his native Hawaii, includes odes to his family, youth football coaches and the Polynesian culture.

“Looking at that is kind of like having a piece of home over here,” Buckner said. “It’s a sense of pride knowing somebody from where we come from can do big things like what he did. It also shows the younger generation coming from Hawaii they can do big things, too.”

Mariota passed for 4,454 yards, ran for 770 yards and accounted for 58 total touchdowns during the historic season.

Visitors, including future prospects on recruiting trips from Hawaii, which Helfrich has described as the program’s “other home state,” can look at Mariota’s well-earned hardware while sitting on black marble benches shaped like the Hawaiian Islands.

“That will be awesome,” Helfrich said. “A really cool tribute to Marcus. It’s something he would really be proud of and happy for the young guys and girls to come from Hawaii and see that and give them hope or motivation.”

Vavae Malepeai, a running back from Mililani, is one of Oregon’s early verbal commitments for 2016. It seems Mariota is still having an effect on the Ducks’ future.

“Having a guy like Marcus definitely helped out with the recruiting in Hawaii,” Buckner said. “I’m happy to see more guys from the islands coming out to Oregon and just taking that chance to come to the mainland and show everybody what they can do.”

via Oregon Ducks’ Hawaiian pipeline doesn’t end with Marcus Mariota | Sports | The Register-Guard | Eugene, Oregon.