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Inspired by Marcus Mariota, Anu Solomon gets chance to beat him

As a high schooler, Anu Soloman met fellow Hawaiian Marcus Mariota and was inspired by his words of advice. On Thursday night, Arizona's quarterback will try to repay the favor by beating Oregon's Heisman candidate.

Anu Solomon isn’t sure if Oregon’s Marcus Mariota remembers him. But the Arizona redshirt freshman quarterback still vividly recalls meeting the Ducks signal-caller for the first time three years ago during an island-wide Sunday workout at Mariota’s high school in Honolulu. Together, the two Hawaii natives did passing drills, working on timing with wide receivers.

Mariota was already an emerging star at Oregon at the time, and when the workout was over he gave advice to Solomon and the others who had participated: “Always remain humble, and work hard.”

Solomon has never forgotten Mariota’s words and heeded the advice ever since. It was an experience that Solomon calls “breathtaking.” “He’s a great icon,” Solomon said. “I look up to that guy. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great guy.”

On Thursday night, Solomon will once again be on the same field as Mariota. But this time it will be in front of a national television audience as their respective undefeated teams square off in Eugene in another Pac-12 showdown.

While Mariota is considered the frontrunner for the Heisman, the dual-threat Solomon has made his mark in his first year as Arizona’s starter after beating out four others for the job. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman’s most recent pass was a 47-yard Hail Mary to beat California 49-45 on the game’s final play. It was his fifth touchdown pass on his 73rd attempt of the night and capped his career-high 520 passing yards. This season, he’s thrown for 1,454 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.

It’s been quite a start for Solomon, whose full given name is Jarrett Pekelo Kahanuolaokalani. He goes by Anu, three letters in his last given name because his cousins had trouble pronouncing it. “There is no shame at all in that,” Solomon said with a laugh.

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Solomon is not ashamed to admit how much he initially struggled when he and his family moved from Honolulu to Las Vegas when he was 10. His biggest problem was speaking English because his primary language was Pidgin English, a hodgepodge of Hawaiian and foreign words. Solomon laughingly recalls a friend once telling him to “stay up” when dropping him off. It’s a slang expression for good luck or take care, but Solomon actually thought his friend wanted him to stay up all night, which he did.

The next morning, Solomon called his friend and told him, “Bro, don’t ever tell me to stay up and you’re not going to call me.” His friend laughed and explained the phrase’s meaning to Solomon. “It was pretty funny at the time,” Solomon said. “It was just crazy.”

Solomon ended up starring at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, earning scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, among others. He chose Arizona mainly because of Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez and he felt the program was on an “incline.”

• RICKMAN: Where are Oregon, Arizona in this week's Power Rankings?

Redshirting last season was a humbling experience for Solomon, but it allowed him to get better acclimated with Rodriguez’s fast-paced spread-option offense. Not that he or his father, Jarrett, his biggest critic, think he’s mastered it. The younger Solomon is extremely critical of himself, too. He gets it from his father who played linebacker at San Jose State. The elder Solomon is quick to point out his son’s overthrows, misreads and slowness. He anticipated his son’s stardom long ago, putting a football in his hand shortly after his birth. “He wanted me to be a linebacker like him,” Solomon said.

Instead, Solomon is more like Mariota, who could be the first pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. He hopes to someday mean as much to Hawaii as Mariota does. “I’m doing this for them,” Solomon said.

And he’s got a chance Thursday night to make sure that Mariota remembers him.

• ELLIS: Heisman Watch: Can Mariota hang on to his lead?