Coming home, there were no guarantees. Not for Marcus McMaryion, not for Fresno State.
It might work, it might not.
Too many variables to know, one way or the other.
Fall camp already had started, only adding to the degree of difficulty. Coming back to the central San Joaquin Valley and to Fresno State as a graduate transfer after spending three seasons at Oregon State, the former star at Dinuba High dug in.
He had to learn a new offense, new terminology, new pass game concepts, new protection schemes, new shifts and motions and signaling procedures. He had to work with new coaches in a new work week, installing and practicing game plans tweaked for every opponent.
He had to develop a chemistry with a new set of receivers, veteran guys who had been together for three years and were deeply invested in the work they had put in through the spring and summer with other quarterbacks.
And it all had to happen quickly.
The only certainty was that mom and dad, Liz and Marcus, would have a much easier time getting to football games.
Dinuba to Corvallis, Ore., is 714 miles, 11 hours if weather doesn’t get in the way.
The McMaryions made that drive for the Beavers’ home games for three years, missing only one because a winter storm made the trip too dicey.
“We would get up early Friday morning, probably leave about 5 o’clock and once in a great while 4:30 and get there in the evening,” Liz McMaryion says.
“We’d be able to see him for a little bit at the hotel. Game day was Saturday, of course. Then we’d get up, have breakfast and get on the road Sunday morning.”
The switch from Corvallis to Fresno was clearly less taxing for the McMaryions. As for their son, the change of venue was a revelation.
In the first season under coach Jeff Tedford, McMaryion and the Bulldogs produced nine victories, won a Mountain West Conference division title, and received an invitation to the Hawaii Bowl, where on Christmas Eve they will play Houston.
He made a big difference, not just with his play, but with his leadership and demeanor and his attitude.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
McMaryion, No. 2 behind returning starter Chason Virgil coming out of fall camp, played much of the second half in the opener against Incarnate Word, a 66-0 rout.
He played some in a loss at No. 1 Alabama, some more in the loss at No. 6 Washington.
After a bye week, Tedford committed to McMaryion as the Bulldogs’ starter. In the next game, a Mountain West matchup with Nevada, he completed 24 of 32 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 41-21 .
In that victory, he managed the offense like he had been in it for years, got the Bulldogs in the right plays. Fresno State averaged 7.1 yards per play against the Wolf Pack, its best against a Division I opponent since 2013.
McMaryion in his first start threw the football more than 30 times, completed 75 percent of those passes, and going back to 2000 that had happened only eight times at Fresno State and only twice by a quarterback not named Carr. Derek Carr had done it five times, David Carr had done it once, as had Ryan Colburn and Paul Pinegar.
How did it all come together so quickly?
It was McMaryion, his coaches and teammates, his family. His girlfriend, even.
“It was a lot of late nights,” McMaryion says. “I had her signaling me plays and stuff like that. She’d signal for me. She could tell you what our base runs are …”
On the practice field, if something went awry, it quickly was dissected; quarterback, receivers, coaches.
“If we missed a play by a yard or two, it was really just talking right after the play and saying, ‘What did you do on your end? What did I do on my end?’ so we could get this thing fixed as quick as we can,” McMaryion says.
“If something went wrong, we immediately knew to talk to each other and say, ‘What happened? Was it my fault? Was it your fault?’ and bouncing that feedback off each other. It was all of us, on both ends, whether wide receivers or tight ends, whoever I was throwing the ball to, giving each other that feedback.”
If they felt that they needed some extra work, they got it.
“Sometimes, if we had a day off, we’d go out in the morning and get a little work in,” says wideout KeeSean Johnson, who has 69 receptions for 918 yards and eight touchdowns. “You always make time to be better.”
As the season progressed, so, too, did McMaryion.
I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Coming back home, the support that the Valley has given me is unreal.
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion
“He has taken great ownership in the offense,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer says. “He not only knows his job but everyone else’s and I love the relationship that he has built with the guys around him and in particular the offensive line and Aaron Mitchell.
“Those guys run the show when it comes to setting our protections and things like that. there’s a reason why we have very few sacks, very few tackles for loss.”
Together, they changed the dynamic of the season and the program.
“He made a big difference, not just with his play, but with his leadership and demeanor and his attitude,” Tedford says. “I think that’s the most impressive things about him, how he came in and fit in with the team because that’s not easy to do when you come in late like that and everyone has invested a lot of time and energy over spring and summer and fall camp and now here comes the new guy.
“If a guy would have come in and acted like the savior and ‘I’m this and I’m that’ and had an attitude, it had the potential to create bad chemistry and that’s something you always have to roll the dice with. But because of who he is, it happened really quickly. It’s a real tribute to who he is as a person and how he has built really strong relationships with the team in a really short period of time.”
It worked out for McMaryion’s family, as well.
The trip from Dinuba to Bulldog Stadium, that’s a breeze.
“Thirty-five minutes … that’s unreal,” says Liz McMaryion, a Fresno State graduate, Class of 1994. “My mom and my dad, they were never able to make the trip up to Oregon. But they’ve been to the home games” at Fresno State. “We have a big family, immediate family and extended family, cousins that would go. We never tailgated in Corvallis, but it has been an amazing experience because we’ve all been able to get together.”
That, Marcus McMaryion says, is everything.
When he left Oregon State, Fresno State appeared the upside landing spot. It was home. It had opportunity. With only Virgil and junior college transfer Jorge Reyna on scholarship, the Bulldogs had delved into the graduate transfer quarterback market over the summer.
But in the days after he left Oregon State other schools started to show interest, Texas and Iowa among them.
“I was caught off-guard by the schools that were reaching out to me,” McMaryion says. “It caught me by surprise. I thought I’d have a couple of small schools, D-II schools maybe here or there, so it really surprised me that big schools were reaching out to me.”
Tedford and the Bulldogs’ staff could only wait, and worry.
McMaryion has extended family in Texas. Growing up, he was a Longhorns fan.
I have the most supportive parents that I could ever ask for. They definitely invested a lot and all I want to do is make them proud and I hope I continue doing that.
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion
“It was kind of weird,” he says. “Texas was my dream school with Vince Young and those guys.”
The Valley won out.
“At the end of the day I’d say it was all the intangible things,” McMaryion says. “Being closer to home. My grandma could drive up here. It’s hard for her to make the trip all the way to Oregon. There were so many factors outside of football. Also, where I wanted to settle down in life after football.
“It means the world to me. A lot of people look past the little things, just being able to go home whenever I want and having a home-cooked meal or going to my sister’s volleyball games and stuff like that. I took it for granted when I was in Oregon. I’m definitely never going to take it for granted now, being back home.”
The best thing is the best may yet to come.
The Bulldogs have Houston in the Hawaii Bowl, but after that McMaryion will get a chance to do what he didn’t before transferring to Fresno State. He earned his degree from Oregon State in just three years, transferring with two years of eligibility. He will have a spring practice. He will have a summer strength and conditioning program and opportunities in player-run practices to work with the Bulldogs receivers.
“Typically in the offseason you’re always picking up something here or there, something new, and for him to be on the ground level of that will be really important,” Tedford says.
“But being around all his receivers, he’ll have time to get the timing down with those guys and understand their body language. That’s a big thing. When they talk about timing with quarterbacks and receivers it’s really about body language, how you see them coming out of breaks, and you get the intricacies of what they look like when they’re about to break. It will be a valuable offseason that way.”
Johnson, who has moved up to No. 8 on the Bulldogs’ all-time receptions list with 172: “We’re going to just continue to get better from here on out.”
The Bulldogs have both eyes set on Houston and the Hawaii Bowl, but after that they know they are not done.
“I couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” McMaryion says. “Coming back home, the support that the Valley has given me is unreal.
“Just knowing that I have that much support motivates me that much more to bring this team together and rally and continue doing what we’ve been doing all year.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. HOUSTON
- Sunday, Dec. 24: 5:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu
- Records: Bulldogs 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West; Cougars 7-4, 5-3 American Athletic
- TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600).
- Of note: The Bulldogs make a third trip to the Hawaii Bowl since 2012, having lost to Southern Methodist in 2012 and Rice in 2014. Houston is a bigger challenge. The Cougars opened with a road victory against a Power 5 team (Arizona). Houston has the Outland Trophy winner in defensive tackle Ed Oliver (14.5 tackles for loss; 5.5 sacks). A big-play offense is led by D’Eriq King, who in the past three games has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, averaging 11.2 yards per pass attempt.