Fast and fun

With the commitment of Houston native Venric Mark, Northwestern added some game-breaking speed to its roster – and an ear-splitting voice to its locker room. Purple Reign talked with Mark's high school coach about the big-time ability and bubbly personality the Wildcats are getting.

In any of Venric Mark's football games, both teams know exactly where he is.

The opponents know, of course, because Mark is almost invariably the most dangerous player on the field. And his teammates know because, well, when Mark gets excited, he tends to get a little loud.

Indeed, Northwestern's newest commit is a handful for opponents and an earful for teammates – a good kind of earful.

"His personality is just like he runs – he's 1,000 miles-per-hour all the time," said Rene Ramirez, Mark's coach at St. Pius X in Houston. "He's a high energy guy from the weight room to running sprints to the way he carries himself….

"He has a distinctive voice. Especially when he's yelling, he has a very distinctive voice. When he yells it gets very high pitched, and we would always joke with him about that. But he gets us going. You want guys like that."

Mark, who just committed to the Wildcats, rounds out a big-time haul of receivers. Three-star wideouts Tony Jones (Grand Blanc, Mich.) and Shontrelle Johnson (Orlando, Fla.) have already committed to NU along with Jimmy Hall (Sylvania, Ohio). Northwestern is losing its top two pass-catchers from last season – Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer – but Fitz and his staff have seen to it that the offense is reloaded for years to come.

Sure, the 5-10, 160-pound Mark is just a two-star recruit. But that ranking belies his game-breaking ability – ability that Mark's coach, stats and YouTube videos can attest to.

"I've been coaching high school football for 14 years," Ramirez said, "and he has the fastest game speed I've ever seen on any team that I've coached or coached against. He's a difference maker and he makes everyone else on the team better because the other team is so worried about him."

According to Ramirez, Mark had nine punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns during his junior season, and five more in 2009. And that's despite getting the dangerous-return-man treatment – "People were punting it straight out of bounds," Ramirez said.

Mark projects as a slot receiver at Northwestern, which is where he lined up a lot of time in St. Pius' version of the spread. He also ran the ball 92 times last season, amassing 772 yards (7.8 per carry). And what's maybe most impressive, Ramirez swears that Mark runs a legit 4.3 in the 40. (In fact, Ramirez said that they clock their players on grass, and not on a track. Nonetheless, Mark still notched multiple 4.3 times.)

Judging by the fact that Ramirez had Mark at receiver, running back and returning kicks and punts, you can't go wrong giving the ball to Mark.

"He's just a guy who you want to get the ball in his hands," Ramirez said. "One of the great things about him is his leg drive – the sucker just doesn't go down. He's exciting. There's a lot you can do with him. He can be a gunner on punt coverage and you can put him on kickoffs. Don't be surprised if he beats the ball down the field."

Mark chose Northwestern over Colorado, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Arizona State, SMU and more – a list that recently grew.

"As far as recruiting goes," Ramirez said, "I think the last month or so there were a bunch of schools coming out of the woodwork because he was uncommitted and the (YouTube) video got out and the word got out. He had a lot of choices in front of him….

"He just felt very comfortable with (Northwestern's) coaching staff and that the staff was very genuine. He got to visit while the team was preparing for the bowl game and he enjoyed watching them practice and workout and seeing how they do things. And I'd say, too, statistically the quality of the education (was a factor) and the graduation rate of African-American football players."

Luckily for NU, fans will be seeing – and teammates hearing – Mark in Evanston for years to come.

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