Venric Mark to transfer from Northwestern

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When it was announced that Northwestern running back Venric Mark was suspended for the first two games of the season, the news came as a surprise to many and a shock to the Wildcats' offensive star.

"Does it hurt? Yeah, it hurts really bad," Mark told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday after practice. "But there's no point in pouting. I'm going to embrace it."

Less than 24 hours later, things appear to have changed dramatically.

The school announced Wednesday evening that Mark was making the even more shocking decision to transfer closer to his family in Texas.

"Northwestern has been an indescribable experience for me," Mark said in a statement. "It has been my home for four years, and it 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."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said it was "a difficult day for our football family and, most importantly, for Venric. We love him, and there is no doubt that we're going to miss him as both a person and a player. But this is unquestionable what is best for Venric and those closest to him."

Mark rushed for 1,366 yards in a breakout 2012 season and was named to a number of All-American teams as a punt returner. He was among the most versatile players in the country as Northwestern won a bowl game for the first time in 64 years, but couldn't follow up on his success after suffering a season-ending injury three games into the 2013 campaign.

As if the loss of Mark wasn't enough for the Wildcats, the school also disclosed that senior wide receiver Christian Jones was lost for the year after injuring his knee. He started all 12 games last season and was the team's leading receiver with 668 yards and four touchdowns.

The loss of Jones, while a big one, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that former five-star recruit Kyle Prater and Tony Jones are back as the top targets for quarterback Trevor Siemian. Mark's departure is much more of a blow even if the team was planning on his absence for the Cal and Northern Illinois games.

Northwestern's offseason was unlike any other in the country as the team held a historic unionization vote earlier this year. Wednesday's setback at two key positions only made things tougher for Fitzgerald heading into 2014.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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