Born Jan. 8, 1961 in tiny Masury, Ohio, located near Youngstown and the Pennsylvania border, Marek was a decorated prep linebacker out of Brookfield High School and was recruited to play for Ohio State by legendary head coach Woody Hayes, who had a reputation for producing outstanding linebackers.
But before Marek could get to Columbus, Hayes was fired following the 1978 season and Earle Bruce was named as his replacement.
The first meeting between Bruce and Marek didn't go particularly well. When the new OSU head coach arrived at the linebacker's high school, Marek was participating in a pickup basketball game. Rather than stopping the game to meet Bruce, Marek continued playing until his team had won.
"I guess that didn't sit well with Earle," Marek remembered later. "He told the other coaches that showed a lack of respect on my part. But it was a close game, we were playing to 15, and I didn't want to lose."
Luckily for Bruce, he got over the perceived slight. Marek joined the Buckeyes as a raw, 198-pound freshman linebacker in the fall of 1979, not exactly knowing his place on the team. In fact, he said he often thought about returning home and playing at Youngstown State.
But in the season opener against Syracuse that season, it didn't take long for Marek to make an impact. In the second quarter, starting linebacker Tony Megaro went down with a knee injury and Marek was pressed into service. On his first play from scrimmage, he knocked an Orangeman ball-carrier for a 1-yard loss.
It was to be the first of hundreds of stops for the middle linebacker, who became a mainstay in the middle of four straight Ohio State defenses.
He punctuated his freshman season in the Michigan game, making three tackles during OSU's goal-line stand in the first quarter. It set the tempo for the game as the Buckeyes grabbed an 18-15 victory that sent them to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, the team finished just one point shy of a national championship, losing an 18-17 decision to Southern California.
Marek returned to Ohio State for his sophomore season in 1980 and began one of the finest three-year stretches by any linebacker in college football history. He led the Buckeyes in tackles each of those three seasons, earning second-team All-America honors in '80 and '81 and getting a first-team nod as a senior in '82.
He topped off his senior season in his final game, the 1982 Holiday Bowl against high-powered BYU, led by quarterback Steve Young. Early in the second quarter, the Cougars held a 7-3 lead, but the Buckeyes came back on a 61-yard run by tailback Tim Spencer and a 3-yard scramble by quarterback Mike Tomczak to take a 17-10 halftime lead.
"When it was 17-10 at halftime, I thought we should have been a little bit more in command," Marek said. "I thought it was going to be another of those Holiday Bowl barnburners. Then we made a couple of stops and all heck broke loose after that."
The Buckeyes scored 24 unanswered points in the second half and won the game going away at 47-17. Marek totaled eight tackles in that game, allowing him pass Tom Cousineau for first place on the school's career tackles list.
Marek's 178 total stops as a senior was the second-highest single-season total at the time and remains the third-best total behind only Cousineau (211, 1978) and Chris Spielman (205, 1986). Marek finished his career with 572 total tackles, more than any other player in Ohio State history. His 316 assists is also a school record.
Despite his prolific career as a collegiate, Marek was deemed too small by NFL standards to play at the next level, so the 6-2, 224-pounder decided to take a chance in the upstart USFL.
A ninth-round draft choice by the Boston Breakers, Marek became one of the new league's most pleasant defensive surprises in 1983, making the All-League Team. That season, he recovered three fumbles including one for a score, and he also grabbed four interceptions.
He played all three seasons that the USFL was in existence, staying with the same franchise although the Breakers played in three different cities – Boston, New Orleans and Portland – in three different years. Following the 1985 season, Marek played one season in Canada with the Toronto Argonauts before calling it a career.
Marek was inducted into the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, joining a class that included such other standouts as basketball star Herb Williams.
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