When Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota speaks next month in Chattanooga, he will have one clear message for the hundreds of area athletes in attendance.
"Dream big and have aspirations to do whatever you want," Mariotta said when asked what he hopes to convey as this year's guest speaker for the annual Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet on June 14.
"It's a process, but if you believe in yourself and you trust the process, I think you can make those dreams come true," he continued. "We are consistently surrounded by people who act as our backbone. Whether it's family members, coaches, friends or teammates, it's important to remember and be grateful for those who have sacrificed for you and stood behind you throughout your journey. No matter what obstacles you may face, always continue to help others and stay true to yourself and your roots."
The banquet is at 6 p.m. at the Chattanooga Convention Center. For information on the event or tickets, please visit bestofprepschatt.com.
Mariota — who led the Titans to a 10-win season and an AFC wild-card victory in last season's NFL playoffs before they fell to the New England Patriots in the divisional round — said he also plans to connect with the prep players by talking about his own memories as a multisport athlete.
"A lot of the guys that I'm close with that I played with in high school are guys that I still go home and hang out with," he said. "It's really just the relationships I formed. From that standpoint, you should enjoy those relationships because they are lifelong.
"My entire high school career was an incredible journey that I'm extremely thankful for. As a backup quarterback until my senior year, I was taught the invaluable lessons of patience and working hard to pursue my dream. We were very fortunate my last season, winning the state championship and having that to celebrate as a memory of playing together."
Mariota credits much of his athletic success to playing soccer in his youth. By the time he was 8 years old, he was wearing a soccer jersey with the numeral 8, and he has kept the jersey number ever since.
He attended Saint Louis High School in Honolulu, where he threw for 2,597 yards, 32 touchdowns and only five interceptions while guiding the Crusaders to an 11-1 record and a state title as a senior.
Mariota won the 2014 Heisman Trophy as a junior at the University of Oregon, where he became known as one of the most electrifying dual-threat quarterbacks in college history. He was a three-time All-Pac-12 selection and started every game of his three-year collegiate career, breaking every school passing record and leading the Ducks to the 2015 national championship game.
He completed at least one touchdown pass in all 41 games during his three college seasons, which ranks second in NCAA history, and became one of four players in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for more 10,000 yards (10,796) and run for more than 2,000 yards (2,237) in a career.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pounder was the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. He already has broken numerous franchise and league records with the Titans, including being the first NFL rookie to finish with a perfect passer rating in his debut.
This offseason, he's preparing for his fourth pro season while learning a new offense and working under another new head coach, Mike Vrabel.
"The biggest life lesson that I have carried with me throughout my career is that it's crucial to find a balance between football and experiencing life outside the game with family and friends," Mariota said. "As you go through, you get knocked down, and just dust yourself off and continue to find ways to improve and challenge yourself.
"This will be my first time to visit Chattanooga, so I'm excited. I look forward to meeting some of the community. Everywhere I have traveled in Tennessee feels like home to me. I'm really blessed that everyone in the state has been so welcoming, and the fan base extends outside of Nashville to Chattanooga."
The Best of Preps banquet is sponsored by CHI Memorial, Chattem and the Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.