KENOSHA, Wis. – Venric Mark termed his suspension “shocking,” but the Northwestern tailback and return man did have time to prepare. He found out over the summer he would have to sit out the Wildcats' first two games against Cal and Northern Illinois.
“Does it hurt? Yeah, it hurts really bad,” Mark said Tuesday after practice. “But there’s no point in pouting. I’m going to embrace it.”
By embrace it, Mark means he will try to use it to help the team.
“If you don’t do something right,” he said, “I’m going to call you out on it. But I’m going to do it in a respectful way. I can’t always be your friend. I’m a teammate, and teammates make sure teammates do the right thing.”
While addressing his teammates the night before the news broke, Mark “challenged the team to make great choices and look after each other,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He said he’d be the best scout running back in the country. He was excellent. He owned it.”
Suspensions are rare at Northwestern, and like most schools, the reason given is merely violation of team rules. Two violations are what led running back Malin Jones to transfer to Louisville, according to a source.
Mark, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last season, clashed with coaches early in his career, but seemingly was a model student-athlete since his brilliant 2012 season — 1,366 rushing yards and All-America status as a punt returner.
Northwestern officials notified him of the suspension in June. He appealed it and was given the school’s final decision in late July.
“I see this as a minor setback, not the end of my career,” he said. “There’s a great opportunity for the other guys.”
Fitzgerald echoed that, saying: “I think it will make us better in the long run. It might be a little crazy, but he gets 2 weeks less of hits. Hopefully it will make us better in October because we [historically] stink in October. Hopefully he gets better and hungrier because of it and other guys get some experience that will make them better in the long run.”
Treyvon Green moves up as the clear No. 1 tailback, trying to build on a solid junior season (736 rushing yards, 5.4 per carry, eight touchdowns). Stephen Buckley, rehabbing from a dislocated left knee and ligament tears, played it coy when asked if he would be ready for the Aug. 30 opener.
Northwestern coaches are excited about freshmen backs Justin Jackson of Glenbard North and Maryland speedster Solomon Vault.
“We ask our running backs to do a lot of stuff in the run game and the pass game and protection, and they have digested it all,” running backs coach Matt MacPherson said. “It hasn’t always been perfect, but they have a pretty good command of what we’re trying to do.”
Asked what message the suspension sent to the running backs, MacPherson replied: “That actions have consequences. No matter whether you’re the first player on the roster or the 30th, 50th, or 100th.”