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Before Pacific, Boxers crossed paths with greatness

Pacific's Mana Pimental and Jordan Fukumoto were high school teammates with Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota in Hawaii


Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO: SCORINGLIVE
 - Current Pacific running back Mana Pimental (center) played in the backfield at St. Louis School in Hawaii with Oregon star Marcus Mariota (8). Both men headed to the state of Oregon for college ball. For several years now, Marcus Mariota has been slinging footballs with great success for the University of Oregon.

After a terrific junior season — which ended Monday night with the Ducks’ 42-20 loss to Ohio State — the native Hawaiian can claim records galore, an appearance in the national championship game and the Heisman Trophy.

Seemingly everyone knows of Mariota now, but a few years ago, a couple of Pacific University football players were there from the beginning — before Mariota became the biggest name in college football. They can confirm the stories you’ve read about his skill and about the kind person he is.

After all, they knew him before he was Marcus Mariota, reigning king of college football.

Not only do Jordan Fukumoto and Mana Pimental hail from the same island, Oahu, as Mariota, but they can claim the distinction of being his schoolmates and teammates at St. Louis School, a small private all-boys school in Honolulu. Fukumoto was a class ahead of Mariota, while Pimental was a class behind.

“It’s a surreal feeling, especially coming from the same high school,” said Pimental, a running back for the Boxers, about his former teammate’s success as a Duck.

Pimental had the chance to play in the backfield with Mariota in the fall of 2010, when Pimental was a junior and Mariota was a senior. Fukumoto, by that point, had already made the trek out to Forest Grove to play for the fledgling Pacific program in its first season since reinstatement.

Before that, though, he caught passes from Mariota at St. Louis and even started ahead of Mariota at quarterback for a time during his sophomore season (Mariota’s freshman year) on the Crusaders’ junior varsity team.

That didn’t last. Partway through the fall, Mariota took over as the starter and Fukumoto made the switch to wide receiver.

“I always knew he was a great talent,” Fukumoto said. “That was actually the reason why I wanted to switch to receiver, because I knew that when I was going to be a junior or senior, he was going to take over the reins.”

Fukumoto — who went on to become a three-time all-conference receiver in college — described Mariota as the same player then as he is now, just a younger and smaller version. But even in those days, he said, Mariota possessed incredible arm strength.

Perhaps that developed from all those throws into the wind. Fukumoto noted that a mountain sits at the north end of the St. Louis football field, and wind can rush up the adjacent valley toward the field — a wind quarterbacks must throw into when facing in that direction.

So throwing hard wasn’t a problem for Mariota.

“There were times where he would have to drill it in, like a 10-yard hook route throw, and he would throw these (balls) that were about to break my fingers,” Fukumoto recalled.

Though it seems almost incredible now, when Mariota first made varsity at St. Louis, he was not the first-string quarterback. So while he and Fukumoto were on varsity together, they didn’t play together a lot in game settings at that level before Fukumoto left for college and Forest Grove.

But Pimental did — plenty.

“I got to have the chance of taking daily snaps with him at practice and whatnot,” said Pimental, one of a select few who can say that.

He echoed Fukumoto in noting that Mariota was very much the same back then as the quarterback who we see on television or at Autzen Stadium: humble, athletic and fast.

He was the same type of person, too. Much has been written of late about Mariota’s team-first attitude and dedication. That started far before he came to Eugene. Pimental’s own example is one that he does not even remember — his parents relayed the incident to him — but it is telling.

During one game, Pimental was injured during a kickoff and was suspected of sustaining a concussion. The running back went to the sideline to be evaluated by athletic trainers, and, he learned, Mariota stayed right by his side until he had to go back into the game.

“I thought that was pretty cool on his part,” Pimental said.

This is the first part of a two-part series. Next week: College in Oregon

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