Aug. 5, 2014
Photo Gallery: Northwestern Training Camp Opens
An afternoon thunderstorm on the first day of 2014 Northwestern Football Training Camp did not deter the Wildcats from staging an enthusiastic 19-period practice, nor did it prevent NUsports.com's Skip Myslenski from visiting with head coach Pat Fitzgerald and some of the key returners to the NU squad this season. Below is Myslenski's report from Monday's practice, which featured the return to the field of 2012 All-American Venric Mark.
He swept right and turned the corner and now Venric Mark was gone, traipsing untouched from the north end of the 'Cats indoor practice facility to just before the wall at the south end. Last year, when he was fully healthy for but a single game on their schedule, this was just the kind of weapon missing from their offensive arsenal.
But here, in their first fall practice for the coming season, he fully announced that he was back, ending this run by dipping like some sprinter breaking through an invisible tape. "I hadn't really gotten to open up like that in awhile," he later said of this play, which he labeled his personal highlight of the afternoon. "Personally, I think it (showed) my condition. I'm not even tired right now. I feel like I could go run a conditioning test. That's something I'm really happy about."
"It was great to watch him. Happy for him," said Pat Fitzgerald, who was then asked what Mark's return means to his team's offense.
"He's explosive," said the 'Cats coach. "Two years ago, every time he touched the ball, something was going to happen, something positive for us most of the time. Not only as a running back. But also when we were able to get him out in space and showcase his ability to catch the ball, run routes. Then, as a kick and punt returner, he was as dynamic a guy as there was in the country. To get him back is great."
MARK HIS WORDS: When asked why he returned for a fifth season with the 'Cats rather than move on, he said: "That's just how I am. I wasn't satisfied with last year. It really took a toll on me. Knowing that I had the opportunity to come back (as a medical redshirt) with this team, with (quarterback) Trevor (Siemian) being a captain, with the amazing defense we had last year, I felt it was not only good for myself, but good for Northwestern for me to come back and help this team to a Big Ten championship."
When asked what took a toll on him, his ankle injury or the disappointing 'Cat season, he said: "Both. I didn't like sitting out. Since I came in in 2010, I played. Last year was the only year I was hurt and had to sit out, so that's something I'm not used to and mentally I had to get back to where I am now. I'm confident. I feel like the team's confident. I think we're ready to go."
When asked if he felt he had to reprove himself after missing so much of last season, he said: "Personally, i think i do. There's a lot of talk about my size. 'He can't stay healthy.' 'He's not durable.' I'm going to let people talk, and I'm going to do my job, which it to play the game to the best of my ability. That's going to be to an elite level."
And when asked if he, like all athletes coming back from an injury, had to get back to trusting that his body could replicate what it had done before it was damaged, he simply said: "I trust my body now."
ON THE FLIP SIDE: Last fall, in their opener at Cal, Daniel Jones started at one corner for the 'Cats. Late in that game he suffered the knee injury that ended his season and, on Monday, it was announced that the fifth-year senior is out for this season as well, his career now effectively over. Also lost for the season to various injuries are four true freshmen, redshirt freshman receiver Tom Fuessel out of Lincoln-Way East and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Erick Joraskie. In addition, running back Stephen Buckley and receivers Mike McHugh and Cam Dickerson will be limited during camp, though all are excepted to be available for the `Cats Aug. 30 season opener against Cal.
MOVIN' ON: There was a buoyancy about the `Cats during their first practice and, later, Fitzgerald explained why. "In college football," he began, "this is an exciting time of the year, especially from the standpoint-- from your last game until today, everybody talks about your record from last year and we stunk. So, absolutely. You're glad to be talking about 2014 and to be done talking about 2013 from a record standpoint. It's a process you have to work through and we're working through it right now."
That is all true enough. As he has also noted, that 2013 team died the moment its season finale with Illinois concluded. Still. We had to wonder if that season left a bad taste, a taste his players were anxious to replace. "Yeah. Yeah. For sure," said one of them, the superback Dan Vitale. "It's definitely in the past for us. But those seasons leave scars, for sure, and those scars should hurt sometimes. But you should use it as motivation and I think that's a big thing for us right now. We're using that as motivation, just trying to move forward from that. That's also been something that's bringing us together. We want to be seen as better than that. We know we are."
"It's in the back of my mind, honestly. It definitely is," added another, the safety Traveon Henry. "I don't want that to happen against the next two years I'm here."
Is it, as Vitale mentioned, a scar?
"That's it. That's it," concluded Henry. "It's like a war wound to me, something I'll always remember. But we put it past us and strive to do better."
AND FINALLY: Vitale, who as a freshman checked in at 6-foot-2, 220, reports that he is now up to 235. "But," he quickly adds with a smile, "I've been running faster. So that's good."
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!