Venric Mark will seek a fifth year of eligibility after being shut down for the season earlier this week with a fractured ankle.
The running back has played in only three games this season, after entering the year with a lingering injury and then sustaining the ankle fracture in the middle of the season. According to NCAA Bylaw 14.2.5, an NCAA football player is eligible for a medical redshirt if he plays in three or fewer games and the injury occurs in the first half of the season. Mark was injured on the first drive of Northwestern’s game against Wisconsin, the sixth game and exact midpoint of the season.
However, Mark cannot apply for a redshirt until after NU’s season has ended, so it may be well into January before he finds out whether he can return. While coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t want to make any assumptions, he is optimistic about Mark’s chances to obtain the medical hardship waiver.
“At the end of the day, I fully anticipate things to be positive,” Fitzgerald said.
The coach said he is not surprised that Mark opted to seek the fifth year after learning that he would be physically unable to return this season.
“He’s got great pride in being here. Like I said all along, his attitude’s been phenomenal. It’s been a bad deal. From the way it happened at the start of the year, then he comes back, he battles his way back, he’s about ready to start playing and take off, he gets injured again and his attitude’s been phenomenal,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not surprised at all. There’s been phenomenal growth by him from day one when he walked into our program.”
Until the decision comes back, Mark will focus on playing the role of coach on the sidelines.
“There’s a lot of things I can do off the field, but just right now I’m not able to play,” Mark said. “Just the basic things, make sure I’m staying in guys ears, make sure I keep energy up. The only thing I really can control right now is my attitude and that can affect people so I’m just making sure I keep a positive attitude.”
The decision affects Mark’s short-term plans, like when he will graduate. He could choose to graduate with his class and enroll in a master’s program at Northwestern next year, or he could save one of his undergraduate credits for next fall and graduate after the season. While these decisions will be made in the coming months, the Texas-native has not altered his long-term goal of playing in the NFL.
“Yeah of course that’s a dream of mine. I’m not going to downplay that,” Mark said. “That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I was little. That’s what I play the game for honestly. If it’s meant to be, I’m a firm believer that it will happen. Everything happens for a reason.”
After a breakout year last season, with over 1300 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, Mark was ready to step up as the leader of one of the most highly-anticipated NU teams in history. Though the season has turned out much differently than expected, Mark is able to keep things in perspective.
“I hit a block in the road,” he said. “I’ve hit a lot more that (were) a lot worse and severe than this so I know I’m going to get through this. Am I a little pissed off? Yeah. Well actually I’m really pissed off. But I understand how important it is to keep a positive attitude and to make sure I’m here for my teammates and let everything else take care of itself because eventually it will.”