Mark ready to run as NU's starter

It became the story of the preseason, but Venric Mark stole the show in earning Northwestern's first-string running back job. The junior worked hard to win over the position and isn't planning to let up.

It began with Venric Mark mixing in at running back during Northwestern's bowl preparations in December, mainly for special packages. When spring practice started, he made a move to the running backs room, but mainly due to need for depth.

Yet when fall camp started Mark was still there. And he became the starter.

Ever since first taking reps at running back, Mark had his eyes on the starting spot. He earned it with months of hard work and preparation.

"We put him in a position of need and he has run with it," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Mark. "He has run physical, put some weight on, and looks great."

Mark's official billing was as a receiver last season, but he was the Wildcats' jack of all trades. Mark worked in at receiver, running back, kick return, punt return, and even at linebacker during the game against Michigan last season.

When Mark was told by coaches that he would move to running back, he had no hesitation.

"I accepted it," Mark said. "Whatever benefits the team."

It seemed likely that Mark would continue to serve as a role player rather than anything else; however, he won over the job with a productive offseason and strong showing in camp.

Mark has now found a home at running back, where he expects to be a dynamic piece of Northwestern's spread offense. He's eager for the opportunity ahead.

"It feels great," said Mark. "It boosts my confidence and it boosts the confidence of my teammates. They know I'm going to go out there and ride of die. I'm going to leave it all on the field."

Mark brings tremendous versatility to an offense led by similarly-rounded quarterback Kain Colter. While Mark is best suited running in space, he looks forward to running between the tackles, making him harder to contain.

While Mark is built like Darren Sproles, who he models his game after, he isn't afraid to run like Jerome Bettis.

"You have more opportunities when you run inside zone," Mark said. "Yeah, you see a lot of big backs (run inside). With me being a little back, I see holes other backs can't fit through, then that's what I do."

In taking the role of first-string running back, Mark has assumed another important title for Northwestern -- a leader.

"He has been coaching the young guys up," Fitzgerald said. "He went from one of the young guys over the summer to now he's a veteran. He's doing a great job taking over that role. He's one of the oldest guys in that room. He's just doing a great job."

Mark is poised to make his first career start and is thrilled for the opportunity. He isn't lacking confidence and expects to keep working hard, just the way he earned the job.

"When you get on the field, trust yourself, trust your teammates, and trust the plan," he said. "That's all I need to do; trust myself mentally -- I know what I can do -- trust my speed, and trust what I have to contribute."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
Facebook | Twitter| E-Mail |

Purple Wildcats Top Stories