by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
Much of Northwestern’s offseason revolved around wide receiver Kyle Prater, the biggest transfer in NU history. Kain Colter garnered a lot of attention as well, with many wondering how his versatile talents would change the Wildcats’ game plan after Dan Persa’s departure.
However, now that the regular season has started, the focus has turned to another weapon, one that most people never gave a second thought: Venric Mark.
Mark has always been a solid kick and punt returner for the Cats, amassing over 1700 yards of returns over the past two seasons. But the wide receiver –turned –running back never saw much playing time outside of the special teams unit.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, when Mark rushed for 82 yards and caught a touchdown pass, in addition to returning a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in the Cats chaotic 42-41 victory over Syracuse. Despite his past success as a returner, it was his first career punt return for a touchdown.
So was it a one-game wonder? The key to success is consistency, after all.
Cue Saturday night, with the Cats down 10-6 in the fourth quarter and unable to manage any rhythm offensively against Vanderbilt. With nine minutes remaining, Mark took the handoff at the seven yard line and ran it in to give the Cats a 13-10 lead and some offensive confidence, which they translated into a 23-13 win over the Commodores. The junior also added 123 yards rushing, bringing his season total to 205 yards. He has already surpassed his career rushing total of 167 yards, as well as his career touchdown total of two, with three scores this year.
With NU’s receivers underperforming so far and the quarterback situation in limbo, Mark has become the most consistent offensive player at this point in the year. Mark could be in for another big day on Saturday, when the Cats take on Boston College. The Eagles allowed over four yards per carry last season and are already allowing four yards per carry in two games this season.
Mark has already accomplished the task of drawing the fans’ and media’s attention. The real test will come when he begins drawing more of the opponent’s attention. If he can pass that test, the surprise breakout star could carry the Cats all the way to a fifth consecutive bowl game and, just maybe, the first bowl victory in 64 years.