Lifelong Wildcat Fan Set To Face NU

Texas-Pan American head coach Ryan Marks is leading his team into a familiar place on Sunday. Marks happens to be a Chicago native, a lifelong Northwestern fan, and a football season ticket holder for 72 years. Yet, Marks will put aside his love for the Wildcats after tipoff at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

On Saturday afternoon, Ryan Marks was cheering on the Wildcats at Ryan Field, just as he has done for 37 years.

However, when Northwestern's basketball team opens the season on Sunday evening, the lifelong Wildcat fan won't be wearing purple. Marks is the head basketball coach at Texas-Pan American, and his Broncs will oppose the NU at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Marks has been a Northwestern fan since birth. His father, Alfred, began cheering for the Wildcats in 1939, when University of Chicago dropped their football program. He attended nearly every home game from 1949 till 2009, before passing away in early 2011.

Since 1939, Marks's family has had Northwestern football season tickets. Ryan has been going to games since he was three years old. He raised his son as a die-hard Wildcat fan.

Marks vaguely remembers seeing Northwestern play Notre Dame as a four-year-old. One of his greatest memories as a child was seeing the Wildcats snap their 34-game losing streak back in 1982.

"Outside the stadium, my dad bought me a t-shirt," said Ryan Marks. "On the back, it said, ‘here we go, one in a row.'"

Marks began his head-coaching career in 2001 with Southern Vermont. He later moved on to St. Edward's University, before becoming the head coach of Texas-Pan American last season. Marks, a Chicago native, often recruits in the Chicago-area, and plans recruiting weekends with Northwestern football games.

"From the time I went to Southern Vermont till now, there's a ton of recruiting that goes on in the fall," Marks said. "I always try to time recruiting trips to go through Chicago somehow to go to the games."

In December, 2008, Marks's St. Edward's Hilltoppers knocked off previously-unbeaten Arkansas-Monticello. That evening, Northwestern was playing in the Alamo Bowl against Missouri—just 80 miles down the road from Austin.

"(St. Edward's) won that game and I gave the postgame talk, then drove to San Antonio and got to the Alamo Bowl in the middle of the first quarter," said Marks, who admitted he may have driven over the speed limit.

As a lifelong fan, Marks has had an admiration for Northwestern's high academic standards and its clean record with the NCAA. He has pushed to integrate those high standards into his program.

"I have a great respect for what Northwestern athletics represent," he said. "I think my father—aside from being a huge sports fan—had a very strong sentiment about what college athletics should be. The NU program still represents that in its own way. I try to replicate a microcosm of that."

Sunday's matchup between the Wildcats and Broncs is the finale of a three-year series. Northwestern has taken the first two games of the series, but narrowly winning by nine points in 2009 and six points in 2010.

After tipoff at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Ryan Marks will be hoping for a Wildcat loss. He holds no awkward feelings in doing so. Of course, when the game is over, Marks will proudly wear his purple.

"This is the third year we have been playing those guys and I certainly enjoy the challenge," Marks said. "At the same time, it's a relief to go back the rest of the season and root for Northwestern."

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