On the Markshausen

Zeke Markshausen has gone from walk-on to practice squad stud to Northwestern's most productive receiver. Inside, Purple Reign takes a closer look at the player who started this season with one career catch, but who now finds himself as one of Mike Kafka's favorite targets.

There is nothing about the first four years of Zeke Markshausen's college career to suggest that he would become Northwestern's most productive receiver.

For starters, he didn't even play football as a freshman in 2005. And once the did walk on in 2006, he was relegated to the practice squad. For two seasons. Then, after he finally made his way onto the field a little bit last season, his stat line was nine games, one catch, six yards.

Yep, Markshausen spent his first four years at Northwestern as your typical practice-squad-special-teams type of guy. Your typical walk-on.

But "typical" no longer applies. Because now Markshausen, a 5-11, 185-pound senior, is Northwestern's go-to receiver. Like, in games – not just on the practice squad.

His 19 catches lead the team, and his 224 yards rank second behind only Andrew Brewer's 280. Markshausen has 15 receptions and 156 yards over the last two games – the most on the team in each category.

By many measures, Markshausen has been NU's best wideout this season. But by any measure, he has been the most unlikely star.

Sure, Markshausen had himself a nice high school career. He had 37 catches for 750 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at North Boone High School in Capron, Ill. But still, he didn't land any big scholarship offers, and one could be forgiven for thinking his football career seemed kaput.

So the mechanical engineering major – he's actually already graduated and is now enrolled in graduate school – headed to Evanston in 2005. Markshausen wasn't a student athlete during his freshman season, just a student. And when he finally joined the team as a walk-on in 2006, the season had already begun.

Not surprisingly, Markshausen didn't get on the field in '06. He resided on the practice squad, but hey, if sugarcoating is your thing, you could at least say he was having an impact. In 2006, he was dubbed the offensive practice player of the week against Ohio State. He won that honor again in 2007 and saw (very, very limited) action in five games. He accumulated no stats and didn't turn many heads in game action – just on the practice field.

To Markshausen, though, the big thing was playing football. Even if he wasn't really playing all that much.

"I just love football," he said in an interview over the summer with NU Sports. "People always ask you what's your favorite sport when you're growing up. For me, it was football. I just get an enjoyment catching footballs, scoring touchdowns. You can't have that excitement, that adrenalin rush anywhere else."

Markshausen's breakthrough – if you want to call it that – came in 2008, when he made cameos in nine games, including Week 1 against Syracuse. In that 30-10 win against the Orange, Markshausen snared his first collegiate reception, a six-yarder. For a guy who didn't play football as a freshman, and who didn't see a lick of game action as a walk-on for two years, one catch in one game ain't bad.

Of course, it was his only catch of the season. But hey – you can't expect too much from a guy who didn't have a scholarship. Not that the lack of a scholarship mattered to him.

"If you get focused on (the scholarship)," Markshausen told NU Sports, "you're not playing real well. It would be like some other player focusing on his girl friend in the stands or something like that. If you're thinking about something else, you're not going to perform very well….

"You realize it's not important. Me worrying about…getting a scholarship isn't going to help me get off a press and go score a touchdown. That's not going to do anything for me. I think we realized that and it freed you up. It allowed you to go play free."

So maybe is was cosmic payback when, this last off-season, Markshausen was offered a scholarship. The same thing happened with senior walk-on receiver Kevin Frymire – each was offered a scholarship for their years of toiling for free.

After three years of working his tail off on the practice squad, Pat Fitzgerald had bestowed a sort of thank you on Markshausen, an acknowledgment that Markshausen is a valued member of the Northwestern Football Family. Even if he's not a star.

But if the scholarship was simply a gesture of appreciation, and not a statement that bigger and better things were expected of Markshausen, then, well, he didn't get the memo. After catching two passes in each of this season's first two games – against Towson and Eastern Michigan – Markshausen has suddenly become the Cats' most prolific pass-catcher.

Against Syracuse in Week 3, he had nine catches for 86 yards, and six of his catches came in the white-knuckle second half. So he has a flair for the clutch.

And last week against the Gophers, Markshausen had 70 yards on six catches, four of which went for first downs. On the season, 11 of his 19 receptions have gone for firsts.

But Markshausen may be even more valuable than his season stat-line indicates. First off, his productivity is going up. Against NU's two weakest opponents, he had a combined four catches. Now, he was still good in those games, especially considering each of his four receptions went for a first down – and three of those four grabs were on third down. Thus, it's not like he didn't show up until Syracuse.

It's just that the last few weeks he's stepped it up another notch. So much so, in fact, that despite his slow start, he ranks fifth in the conference in receptions.

That is an especially welcome sign seeing as Brewer's numbers have slipped a bit. Brewer still leads the team with 280 receiving yards, but 72 of those came on one play against Towson – and you know how lowly Purple Reign thinks of Towson. With that 72-yarder, Brewer is averaging 18.7 yards per catch. Without it, he's averaging 14.9.*

* Take out the Towson game altogether – which, again, is common practice here at PR – and Brewer has nine catches for 135 yards, an average of three catches and 45 yards per game. Take out Markshausen's Towson game, and he has 17 catches for 194 yards, an average of six catches and 64 yards per game.

Now, Brewer is still a quality receiver, and truth be told he's more of a deep threat than Markshausen. Brewer had a 39-yard TD haul against Syracuse to go with his 72-yard bomb, plus he had two big catches on NU's late game-winning drive against Eastern Michigan.

Make no mistake: Purple Reign is not disparaging Brewer. Not at all. Just saying that, at least recently, Marskhausen has truly has been NU's best receiver. Yeah, Brewer has three touchdowns this season to Markshausen's zero, but Markshausen's numbers are getting better and better, plus he is NU's top receiver in terms of first downs – again, 11 of his 19 catches have been for firsts. To put that number in perspective, only three other receivers on the team even have 11 catches. Plus, 15 of Markshausen's 19 catches have come against NU's two toughest opponents.

Truth be told, it may not be a good thing that a career walk-on is NU's top receiving target. Common sense says that you'd rather have some blue chip with speed to burn at wideout, a guy with the ability to stretch the field. And Markshausen certainly doesn't stretch the field; his season-long is a 30-yarder, one of only two catches on the season that went for more than 22 yards.

But even if Markshausen isn't your quintessential go-to receiver, he does have a quintessential feel-good story. He went from not playing football to being a walk-on – although a never-used walk-on – to now being Kafka's top target.

Frymire, the other long-tenured walk-on who garnered a scholarship this season, has but one catch on the season. And hey, that's what walk-ons are supposed to do. If Markshausen had one catch through four weeks, it wouldn't have been a huge deal.

That he is now the team's top receiver – well, that's a big deal.

To reach Purple Reign, please write to northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

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