Special Teams Key in Heisman Trophy Run for Venric Mark and Northwestern Wildcats

By Tyler Brett
venric mark
Jesse Johnson – USA TODAY Sports

Venric Mark is one of the more underrated offensive weapons in the Big Ten. He is a critical piece of the offensive gameplan for the Northwestern Wildcats and has generated enough buzz to become a possible dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. But Mark isn’t going to win college football’s highest individual runner just because of his rushing ability, but because of the total package of athleticism he brings to the field and his home-run ability when he touches the ball. It will be that ability that will set him apart, particularly in special teams as he returns kicks in 2013.

Mark was a threat to score every time he touched the football and was even named to the 2012 All-American team as a punt returner. He averaged an astounding 166.6 yards per game and 7.7 yards per play in 2012 as he racked up 1,366 rushing yards, 104 receiving yards and 696 return yards while scoring 15 total touchdowns. He was a versatile and elusive offensive weapon for Pat Fitzgerald and the Cats and that versatility could make Mark impossible to ignore on Heisman ballots.

There are several examples in the history of the award when a jack-of-all-trades playmaker was able to run away with the award, but special teams played a major role. Desmond Howard built a career on returning kicks and won a Heisman because of it. Fellow Michigan Wolverines star Charles Woodson holds the distinction as the only defensive player to ever win the award, but he likely wouldn’t have done it without the help of plays made in the return game.

In today’s college football game, the running back position is less valued than ever before while quarterbacks get the bulk of the attention. That stacks the deck even further against a running back getting noticed based solely on his ability to rush the football. That will make Mark’s special teams play even more important if he hopes to get invited to New York City next December. Adding some dazzling returns for touchdowns to his highlight reel could be the jolt that makes Mark a bona fide star.

Will he be able to make enough plays to turn a few heads and earn an invite to the Heisman party in 2013?

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