UL offensive lineman Marks intent on going out his way
It was the first game of what should have been Ken Marks’ final season as a Ragin’ Cajun.
Against Mississippi State.
At the Superdome, in New Orleans.
Marks was set up for one last run, starting in 2019 on an offensive line that had two of his roommates – Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson, both of whom went on to be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft – starting as well.
Then it all went horribly wrong.
Marks went down with a knee injury in the game against the SEC’s Bulldogs, ending his season and a chance to finish it with the roomies with whom it all started.
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Actually, Marks – a product of Beaumont Central High in Texas who began starting full-time for the Cajuns in 2018 – took it all in stride.
“It wasn’t tough,” he said.
“The first part of it, the injury kind of boggled my mind.
“But whenever I was able to get back out there with my teammates and just was able to watch them and kind of coach them up and see them do good things and have a season like that,” Marks added, “it kind of made me want to get back even more.”
And now he is.
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'I WANT TO FINISH THINGS ON MY OWN TERMS'
Marks is back for one more go as the Cajuns prepare to open Sept. 12, this time at nationally ranked Iowa State of the Big 12.
At no time, in fact, did he ever think about calling it quits.
“I never thought that I would call it,” said Marks, who had been starting at UL’s left guard spot.
“I’ve always had a thing: ‘I want to finish things on my terms.’ So being that it was an injury I couldn’t do anything about, I wanted to work back and get myself to play again this upcoming season.”
Marks is now mostly at left guard again and a little at left tackle.
He also can play some emergency center if needed.
But Shane Vallot returns at center for the Cajuns, and Cole Prudhomme – who had been starting before sustaining a season-ending knee injury of his last season – is back as well.
Prudhomme has been working at both guard and center when preseason camp opened earlier this month.
O’Cyrus Torrence, who stepped in at left guard when Marks went down, has loved to the right side alongside Max Mitchell, who moved from the left to the right himself when Hunt suffered a year-ending groin injury midway through last season.
The Cajuns also have brought in graduate transfer Zach Robertson, a former starter at Arizona State, to work on the left side as things.
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So with six possible starters for five spots, things are a bit crowded. But Marks isn’t worried at all about finding plenty of playing time.
“Coach Sale has a good plan,” he said with reference to UL offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale.
When preseason camp opened earlier this month, Marks did readily acknowledge that he needed “to lose a couple pounds.”
“Quarantine did me bad,” he said of time lost to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including 12 of UL’s 15 spring practices.
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Whatever sort of shape he is in, and however much he winds up playing, the Cajuns are happy to have the versatile Marks back.
“Ken is a great human being. Very intelligent, very mature,” UL head coach Billy Napier said. “A guy that’s played a ton of snaps for us around here. It was unfortunate that he got injured last year.
“We’re excited about having Ken back, excited about him being able to participate at full speed.
“Ken,” Napier added, “brings a certain element of leadership to that room, maturity to that room, that I think is gonna be needed.”
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'THOSE ARE MY DOGS'
Returning for one season, however, did mean having to make some adjustments.
And not for Sale and his line.
Rather, it’s more of a personal thing for Marks.
Hunt, selected in the draft’s second round by the Miami Dolphins, and Dotson, taken in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, have moved on to the pro lives.
The fourth member of the group that roomed together for year after year, 2019 senior Rico Robinson, who moved in the starting lineup when Hunt went down and Mitchell jumped from the left side to the right, is finished playing for the Cajuns as well.
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So, UL quarterback Levi Lewis said back in the spring, Marks had to find new roommates and wound up moving in at the time with linebacker Joe Dillon and tight end Johnny Lumpkin.
The good news about that?
“Whenever they left,” Marks said of his fellow offensive linemen, “the refrigerator was a little more full.”
The bad news?
Marks will miss all of his old pals, and he’ll miss as well all that came with being around two NFL draft choices morning, afternoon and night.
“Those are my dogs,” Marks said. “Those were my roommates since we were freshmen.
“So to see them move up to the next phase, it gives an input in life that you can do it too. … It gives hope for all of us.”
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