The Daily Northwestern

Football: Junior running back poised for 1,000-yard season

Northwestern running back Venrik Marc dodges a tackle against Boston College on Sept. 15. The Wildcats went on to beat the Eagles 22-13.

Northwestern running back Venrik Marc dodges a tackle against Boston College on Sept. 15. The Wildcats went on to beat the Eagles 22-13.

Gabriel Peal/The Daily Northwestern

Gabriel Peal/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern running back Venrik Marc dodges a tackle against Boston College on Sept. 15. The Wildcats went on to beat the Eagles 22-13.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

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The last time a Northwestern football player rushed for more than 1,000 yards was in 2006 when sophomore Tyrell Sutton matched that exact number. Since Sutton graduated in 2009, no running back has broken 600 yards.

Junior Venric Mark could change all that this season. The small, athletic running back has already run for 205 yards and could eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season.

“Since maybe Tyrell, we’ve been looking for a guy to take the ball and go run with it,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We haven’t had that in a long time, so two games in,  we’re gaining on having that bell cow, so to speak.”

Mark came in as a wide receiver but did not quite fit as a slot receiver, and toward the end of last season, Fitzgerald switched him to running back. Since the transition, Mark has matured, and that growth is evident on the field, where he has led the Wildcat offense in total yards.

Fitzgerald said he knew after spring practices that Mark could have a special season this year, but it all depended on how hard Mark worked throughout the summer.

“We walked out of spring ball saying, ‘if Venric Mark invests the way he’s capable of, he’s got a chance to have a special year,’” Fitzgerald recalled. “But there was the wild card and he’s obviously proven he did the right things and the credit goes to him.”

However, Mark was still hounded by uncertainties, including whether his 5-foot-8-inch frame could handle the strenuous position of marquee running back for 12 games. Some also questioned if he could keep up with the return game in addition to his every-down back duties.

The recurring questions do not bother Mark, who said he has heard similar doubts all his life and knows how to stay fresh during any game.

Fitzgerald said he is not concerned about Mark wearing down late in the season. The coach added that he plans to keep Mark rested and ready to go, similar to how former NU coach Gary Barnett kept Darnell Autryfresh.

“It’s a long year, and I don’t think there is anyone tougher than him,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll keep him fresh out here on the practice field. He’d fight me if I told him he couldn’t return kicks or punts.”

Mark has made rushing for 1,000 yards one of his goals this season, and the way he has run in the first two games puts him in a prime position to do so.  The main reason: Mark has found a way to do it all as a running back.

Junior quarterback Kain Colter said Mark has assumed a prominent role in the offense by being an all-around running back.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s proved he can hammer it in there and break some tackles,” Colter said. “What people overlook is his ability to pass protect. He’s been chopping those linebackers down when they come in to blitz, and to be an all-around back, you need to be able to run the ball and pass protect and he’s been able to do that.”

However, Colter said Mark’s biggest addition to the offense has been the explosion plays in the running game, which NU has lacked in the last couple of years.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian said having Mark in the backfield has made things a lot easier for the entire offense due to his big-play ability.

If the speedy junior ends up breaking the 1,000-yard record this season, it would not surprise at least one teammate.

“Not the way he’s been playing the first two weeks,” Siemian said. “I know what he’s capable of, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the year in which Sutton graduated. He graduated in 2009. The Daily regrets the error.


About the Writer
Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

Josh Walfish was Sports editor of The Daily. His past positions include Gameday editor. He is from Rockville, Md., and has interned for RantSports.