I know the poll is open for another couple of days, but I feel pretty safe in calling this one. Enough precincts have reported.
The Wildcat of the Quarter for the Fall of 2012 is running back Venric Mark.
It seems common sensical. Actually the voting shows how much sense it made. He was the clear choice. I think that much was clear from the number of paragraphs I spent writing about him on the nominees page. Those words remain and so here they are again:
No one surprised more and embodied what Pat Fitzgerald wants his football team to be more this year than Venric Mark.
The coaches initially had no idea where to put him and in his first three years in Evanston he struggled to make his way at wide receiver. Finally NU saw the light and put him at running back, where he played in high school, and it worked brilliantly. Perhaps the reason Mark was put at wide receiver became his biggest strength.
Mark is listed at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds. That likely made some scouts believe he was too small to be a running back. Mark began proving those critics wrong with each run he made into the pile and each time he got up and started the much bigger defensive linemen trying to tackle him right in the face. It worked and worked and worked. Northwestern was significantly better with Mark on the field. He was the home-run playmaker, particularly from the running back position, Northwestern needed to have a successful season.
For the year, Mark rushed for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 109.2 rushing yards per game. It was (and I swear this will be the last time we mentions this) the first 1,000 yard rushing season for a Northwestern back since 2007. Mark very well could have been the difference between another 7-5 season and the 9-3 season Northwestern had. I don’t think that is hyperbole, is it?
Indeed, Mark made his impact felt pretty clearly from his first touch to his last this season.
That Syracuse game was just the beginning. He cut up the Orange’s special teams as a punt returner twice before catching a pass on a halfback flare route for a touchdown. Performances like that helped him earn a spot of the FWAA All-American first team as a punt returner. His burst through the hole runs made him one of the most dangerous running backs in the conference.
Against Minnesota he burst through the middle for an 80-yard run and a 60-yard run for NU in that win. Against Nebraska he had another 80 yard run where he was simply untouched. It got to the point — especially a punt return touchdown against Penn State — that you were worried Northwestern was scoring too quickly and not giving the defense enough time to rest on the sidelines.
That is a good problem to have when you are scoring touchdowns. And that is what Mark was doing most of the season. He was making big plays and leading the team and giving it an added dimension.
The best news is that Mark has another season at running back to grow and lead this team again.
He will have a full offseason as the starting running back to prepare and answer the questions about his durability. Still there is no doubt that if Mark can play he will. And he will play hard. And he will not let his size stop him from bowling people over and getting in the mix of things.
Of course, Mark has one more game to make an impact for Northwestern. And the Wildcats will be relying on him to lead them to that elusive bowl victory.
Congratulations to Venric Mark for a great season.