Expectations, injuries and an end of the road

PULLMAN – Fall camps are just weeks away from opening. The pre-season magazines are all over the newsstands. Odds makers have had their early lines out for a while. The thrill and pageantry of college football is almost upon us. The cheers, the jeers. And the injuries.

It comes with the territory, of course. The health of a squad is a topic that arises anytime a coach steps in front of reporters.

For some players, it's a game, a month or a season lost. For others it's a career that ends.

Two of the most promising WSU defensive linemen of the 1980s and '90s, Nick Volk (knee) and Mark Hedeen (spine), were done shortly after beginning. Two of the most talented players recruited by Paul Wulff, Cory Mackay and LeAndre Daniels , were permanently sidelined by a car accident and freak neck injury, respectively.

Others have their careers undone less suddenly, with recurring injuries or a spate of them taking the toll.

That's why Darren Markle won't be back for the Cougars this year for what would have been his redshirt senior season.

He was undone by a foot injury last season, a back injury this season.

And so ends a career whose beginnings illustrate so much about the age – the Internet Age – in which we live.

"DARREN CAME IN with lofty fan expectations, but they were expectations fueled not just by football but his incredible record of weight lifting, " remembers CF.C managing editor and recruiting analyst Barry Bolton.

While Markle was rated three-stars by Scout.com and dubbed one of the top 25 middle linebacker prospects in the nation, the fact is that he wasn't widely recruited by FBS schools.

"Boise State, the school in his backyard, didn't offer him a scholarship, which suggests he was more a long-term investment at the Pac-10 level than a sure-fire nugget, and yet I think some Cougar fans viewed him as the next Will Derting, an overlooked gem. And that was fueled because of the weight lifting," Bolton recalls.

Markle was the U.S. National Power Lifting champion for his weight class and broke one national record that had stood for nine years.

"I always told myself I was a football player and my power lifting was to make myself a better football player," Markle told CF.C in a recent interview. "My lifting was always for football. It was never for the accolades. It was to be better on the field."

ABOUT A MONTH before committing to WSU in June 2008, Markle released three videos of his lifting sessions in which he was maxing out. One showed him squatting a mind-numbing 605 pounds. He would later boost his max to 615. Combined with a 400-pound bench press, visions of a true monster in the middle lit up the message boards.

Add in the focus that comes from being the first commit in WSU's recruiting class, and the expectations dance was underway.

Markle redshirted as a true freshman in 2009. The next season he played in 10 games but mostly sat behind Alex Hoffman-Ellis.

In 2011, new linebackers coach Chris Tormey characterized Markle as "smart and physical" and wanted to get him out of Hoffman-Ellis' shadow in the middle. So Markle moved to weakside linebacker.

It wasn't a good fit. That season he posted three tackles in the opener against Idaho State and played in just four other games the rest of the way.

"You work your tail off and let the chips fall as they may," Markle said. "I could take pride in the locker room and weight room that I was one of the strongest guys on the team, and that meant a lot."

Enter 2012. With Hoffman-Ellis off to the NFL, Markle would have a chance to shine in the middle. The introduction of new head coach Mike Leach meant a clean slate, and Markle knew his strength would show.

"I was dominating literally every player I went up against," Markle said. "I was the number-one linebacker in all the drills. I was giving it my all and really making plays out there."

That spring Markle battled second-year freshman Darryl Monroe for the starting role. Monroe beat him out, but worse, Markle suffered a back injury that sidelined him for much of the summer.

When fall camp began, he was close to feeling 100 percent and confident he would surely secure a spot in defensive coordinator Mike Breske's rotation-based defense. Markle was dealing with slight plantar fasciitis at the time, but said it wasn't hurting enough to keep him off the field.

Just three practices in, the fasciitis went.

"My foot just gave out," Markle said. "It sucked. I completely ruptured by arch. I was done and it was one long process to get it back to even walking ability -- probably three months.

"I got my foot back to 100 percent, and during a spring lifting session with my coaches (earlier this year), my back just popped," Markle said. "And that was it. That was what ultimately ended my career."

That pop was three herniated disks in the lower back.

AND JUST LIKE that, a guy who had worked and sweated and pushed hard for four years to fulfill expectations – his own and fans' too – was done. Football was over.

Fifteen games played, nine total tackles, one fumble recovery.

The end was made official this past March when spring practices opened and Markle's name wasn't listed on the roster.

"I'm not going to get surgery," Markle said. "We'll just have to see how it heals. A lot of doctors say these things can heal back to normal."

HANGING UP HIS cleats was difficult, Markle said, as football was his life as far back as he can remember.

"I gave my body, literally, to the university I love," Markle said. "I gave Washington State everything I had. Someday, hopefully you all will be reading my name in some different headlines for something I've accomplished with this degree that this wonderful school has given me."

Markle, now a married man, plans on returning to Pullman this fall to begin work on a master's degree in business.

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