Chip Kelly said that he predicted Marcus Mariota would win the Heisman Trophy when he was coaching at Oregon and the quarterback was a freshman.
Three years later and the Eagles coach's prophecy is just a few days from coming true. Mariota is the odds-on favorite to be crowned winner of the award for college football's most outstanding player.
"It had nothing to do with me," Kelly said. "When he was a freshman I remarked, 'This kid's going to win the Heisman.'"
Kelly was asked why he thought Mariota, who wasn't heavily recruited out of high school and was redshirted as a freshman, would eventually win the award that only 77 players have won since 1936.
"Because he's a special player and he's just got a gift for playing football," Kelly said. "He's everything you want. He can throw the ball, he can run. He's the most talented kid I coached in college."
Mariota is one of three players to be invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York for Saturday's announcement and presentation. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper are the other finalists.
Oregon, which is the No. 2 seed in the national championship playoffs, has never had a Heisman Trophy winner.
"He's a special young man and he's a hell of a football player and he deserves it," Kelly said of Mariota. "But I don't think it was any impact that I had. The type of kid that he is – he had an impact on everybody that had an opportunity to coach him. I'm sure [current Oregon head coach] Mark Helfrich and [offensive coordinator] Scott Frost would tell you the same thing."
The numbers Mariota has put up this season have been amazing. He's completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,773 yards and tossed 38 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Mariota has also rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Kelly was asked what has impressed him most about the 21-year-old since he left two years ago to take the Eagles job.
"I don't get a chance because their games are on so late," Kelly said. "Sometimes I watch the first half and I fall asleep. I haven't gotten a chance to watch a full body of work from him. Anything he does numbers-wise … doesn't surprise me. But I think it's how he handles himself, his demeanor and all those things, that really kind of set him apart. He's a special young man from that standpoint."
Many analysts have projected Mariota to be the NFL's No. 1 pick in next spring's draft. The Eagles, of course, aren't stable at the quarterback position. Nick Foles regressed this season after last year's Pro Bowl campaign, and has missed the last five games with a broken collarbone. Backup Mark Sanchez has been as inconsistent.
The 9-4 Eagles' first round pick will likely be the 20s, depending upon how they fare over the final three games and if they get to the postseason. It would take a lot to move up and get Mariota, provided there is a team that doesn't need a franchise-caliber quarterback and Mariota is still considered the best prospect.