ATLANTA – There will be a sea of emotions flowing through Marcus Mariota on Sunday in the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints. It's been a few seasons since Mariota was named QB1 and having a fresh start in Atlanta means everything to him as he enters his eighth year in the league.
"It's almost surreal right," Mariota said after Wednesday's practice. "The last couple of seasons, you're always one play away, you're always prepared to be the starter but to be here again in this situation, to have this opportunity is very exciting for me and I can't wait for it on Sunday."
Despite going through a rough patch in his last three seasons, his outlook on the situation remained positive and views everything being beneficial for his career. It's allowed him to reflect, learn, and grow in more ways than one. We saw it during preseason. His playmaking ability, leadership, and overall confidence was on full display. He's ready to reinvent himself if you will and make the most of this 'second chance' of his career.
"I really believe, for me, the last couple of years to sit and watch and to learn was very beneficial," Mariota said. "I'm excited to take what I've learned and absorbed and apply it to the season and into the start on Sunday."
Facing his draftmate, Jameis Winston, on Sunday is something he's looking forward to. This is almost a full circle moment for him considering how parallel their careers have been. Mariota first got to know Winston during the NFL Draft combine in 2015, and they trained together out in Carlsbad, Calif., and now eight years later, the quarterbacks will duel off in the regular season opener as archrivals.
"I've always told him 'I'm one of your biggest fans,' and I've always wished him well. Now, that we're kind of going on these different paths and different journeys, that doesn't change for me," Mariota said "So, I'm excited to see him, and I always wish him the best. Going through our different paths you always want to see someone like that be successful and given another opportunity."
Mariota expects to feel every emotion heading into Sunday's matchup against the Saints. Most of his family from Hawaii will be in attendance to watch him play and this is a new start in his NFL journey. Nonetheless, he's ready for the moment.
"My dad told me a long time ago that it means you care and it always kind of brings a little comfort for me," Mariota said. "I always get it first play of the game and it goes away, and it's just football again. I really believe there'll be a lot of emotions and I just kind of channel that, I don't try to fight it or anything like that. Just be present in the moment and enjoy this."
Take a look as the team takes the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in preparation for the game against the Saints.