On the first day of camp at Kenosha, focus remained on what happened back in Evanston last week.
Northwestern will be without Venric Mark for the first two games of the season, and though the topic has already been covered ad nauseam, Wildcat staff had no reservations addressing it Tuesday.
"He owned it," Pat Fitzgerald said about a meeting Mark held after news of his suspension broke. "He challenged the team, challenged the defense and said he’d be the best scout running back in the country."
Much of our focus has been on who will step up to take carries in Mark's absence. But there is another angle to this — what if time off was what Mark needed? Yes, he hasn't had a shortage of that this past year, but what if a different kind of removal from games prompts maturity?
Players always speak to Mark's buoyant personality, but a team facing a whole lot of urgency from Opening Day may need a fifth-year player who's cut the BS and is able to assume responsibility — no small task after last season saw almost every unit collapse to some extent. Mark handled his first interview since the suspension with aplomb, and though that came with some clichés and coach speak, it also hinted at the bigger goal for Kenosha: Take a core of talent that's clearly already in place, and fine-tune it to establish the most cohesive and focused product possible. Mark looked sullen on the sideline all of last year; right now, he sounds more motivated than he did earlier in the summer. There are worse wake-up calls than missing two nonconference games.
"We're going to take a hit in September, but I fully expect us to be 2-0 by the time I get back," Mark said Tuesday. "I'm not on the leadership council or anything, but at the end of the day, everyone there knows my standards might be different."
That's exactly what you want to hear. No, Mark is not a team captain, but NU would greatly benefit from him striving to be one. Matt MacPherson called this group of running backs among the most talented he's ever coached, and if Mark can assume a real leadership role, it can live up to the hype.
Treyvon Green has more on the line now. Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault have seen how business is handled and how little room there is for error. We've covered how the team can handle Mark's loss in a football sense, but the suspension may be an inadvertent rallying cry as well.
"One man’s issue is another man’s opportunity," Fitzgerald said. "And it might be a little crazy, but he gets two weeks less of hits. Hopefully he gets better and hungrier because of it and our other guys get some experience that will make them better in the long run."