Resilient Mark keeps running

It seemed unlikely that Venric Mark would be in the position he is. Yet, the dynamic athlete became Northwestern's starting running back, and is now a Doak Walker Award finalist. It has taken resiliency for Mark to withstand each hit, but he isn't backing down.

I'll admit, I was looking for a quote, and Venric Mark gives gold.

Just days after suffering an injury against Michigan, and following a practice in which he was limited, Mark stood before the media for questions.

"Hey, Venric," I jumped in. "Fitz said you're likely to play this weekend. Can you echo that statement?"

The junior running back offered the serious scowl of a defensive lineman, refuting the notion. He appeared to be offended by the claim he could miss a start.

"Likely to play?" he said. "No, I'm going to play. That's a given."

That's the quote I was looking for, and the words every Northwestern fan hoped to hear. The statement shouldn't surprise anyone. It spoke of toughness and perseverance.

There were many questions surrounding Mark's emergence as the Wildcats' starting running back. Could he return to high-school form at the position? Would he withstand a physical Big Ten slate? How would he fare?

Mark has dazzled through 10 games, posting 1,176 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, while adding two return touchdowns. He has gone from underutilized specialist to a Doak Walker Award finalist.

But it's the fashion in which Mark has enjoyed such success which makes the numbers and accolades more impressive.

The 5-foot-7, 170-pounder has taken a pounding. His body has been bumped, bruised, and battered each game. Yet, he keeps getting up for more.

Mark waited for his opportunity. He was a return specialist as a freshman and sophomore, seldom used in the offense. When the running back room was short on depth in the spring, Mark wasn't leaving. He fought through the summer and into the fall, earning his chance, never backing down.

During the season debut against Syracuse, Mark broke an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was the beginning of a big season.

Mark totaled 123 rushing yards in a victory over Vanderbilt, added three touchdowns against South Dakota, topped his career-high rushing total against Indiana, then again while facing Minnesota where he posted 182 yards and added two touchdowns.

After the win in Minneapolis, Mark was asked how healthy he felt.

"I actually do feel pretty healthy," he said. "My body feels great. I get dinged up every now and then, but that just goes with playing running back."

Sorry, Venric, but that was a lie then, and still is. After 189 carries, a tailback is bound to feel some pain. But Mark isn't ready give up.

It took resiliency for Venric Mark to gain a scholarship offer, a role with his team, and eventually a starting spot. There's no quit in Northwestern's running back, and he proves that each rep.

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.
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