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Northwestern’s Venric Mark might play vs. Buckeyes

Venric Mark advances during Northwestern spring football practice Lakeside Field Athletic Complex EvanstIll. Saturday April 13 2013. | Andrew A.

Venric Mark advances during Northwestern spring football practice at the Lakeside Field Athletic Complex in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:33AM

Northwestern’s Venric Mark hasn’t confirmed that he’ll play Saturday against Ohio State in what is arguably the biggest regular-season game in the school’s history. But the running back has done plenty to get back on the field.

After missing the past three games with a lower-body injury, Mark has been a full participant in practice since last Tuesday.

He even lobbied to play in the Wildcats’ 35-21 win against Maine on Sept. 21, which gives him a good shot to play Saturday, considering what’s on the line.

“I did [lobby] a little bit, but at the end of the day the coaches know what’s best,” Mark said. “They know what’s best for the team and so I respect their decision and clearly it was the right decision. We got the ‘W.’ That’s all that matters.”

Not only is Mark expected to get carries against the Buckeyes, but he might resume his duties as a punt returner. Last season on returns, he averaged 18.7 yards with two touchdowns and earned first-team All-American honors.

“My plan is to do returns, but you never know what the coaches want,” Mark said. “They know what’s best for the team. So coming into this game what matters for the team is what matters for the team.”

Of course, Mark makes his biggest impact running the read-option with quarterback Kain Colter.

The read-option wasn’t lacking in Mark’s absence, and the Wildcats have used it heavily. But without Mark, Northwestern didn’t have the speed at running back that helped make the offense so productive last season.

Mark said the injury initially occurred during the first week of training camp. He was held out of certain team drills throughout August. It’s unclear whether the injury was made worse by playing in the opener at Cal on Aug. 31, but since then coach Pat Fitzgerald has said he has taken a cautious approach to Mark’s recovery.

Fitzgerald has said numerous times he is optimistic Mark will be available Saturday.

“That’s a heck of free-agent pickup,” Fitzgerald said of Mark’s potential return. “You get an All-American back that … makes a big difference.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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