Northwestern lost two of its top offensive threats on Wednesday.
First, the program announced in a release that fifth-year senior running back Venric Mark will transfer for “personal reasons, with a desire to play football this season closer to his family” in Texas. Mark, who missed most of last season due to injury but was granted a fifth season of eligibility by the NCAA, was suspended by the program last week for the first two games of the season for a “violation of team policy.”
Just four days later, his career with the Wildcats came to an end.
"Northwestern has been an indescribable experience for me," Mark said in a release. "It has been my home for four years, and has molded me into the man I am. I'm one class shy of the Northwestern degree I've worked so hard for, and I will graduate. I'm devastated to leave my second home, but life is full of challenges and I've been presented with another one. Right now this is what is best for me and my family."
When the suspension came out, Mark said that he “made a mistake,” but did not offer details. As a junior in 2012, Mark was named All-America as a punt returner and second team All-Big Ten as a running back with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Big things were expected from him in 2014 following his injury-plagued 2013 campaign.
"Today is a difficult day for our football family and, most importantly, for Venric," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We love him, and there is no doubt that we're going to miss him as both a person and player. But this is unquestionably what is best for Venric and those closest to him."
The news of Mark’s departure comes as a big surprise, especially after he told the media on Tuesday that his suspension was “a minor setback” and “not the end of (his) career.”
“My focus moving forward is on working as hard as I can in camp and supporting my teammates in practice and on game days so that we can achieve our goals this season,” Mark said last week.
Mark either had a very sudden change of heart, or could he have violated team rules a second time, forcing the program’s hand? Something must have changed, because I doubt the program would have let him meet with the media Tuesday if this decision had already been made.
The bad news didn’t end there for Northwestern. The program also announced Wednesday that senior wide receiver Christian Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury.
While he will be eligible to redshirt and return for a fifth season, the loss of Jones – the team’s leading receiver – is a big blow for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Jones caught 54 passes for 668 yards and four touchdowns last season and established himself as the most reliable target for quarterback Trevor Siemian. He also caught 35 passes for 412 yards and two scores as a sophomore and registered 16 catches for 195 yards as a freshman.
Northwestern’s season opens up at home against Cal on August 30.
For more Northwestern news, visit WildcatReport.com.
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