Coach Pat Fitzgerald watched some younger players suffer from high heat and humidity at Northwestern's first practice Monday.
Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Venric Mark hails from the Houston suburb of Tomball, Texas, so he knows something about playing in the heat.
Northwestern's highly touted freshman receiver/kick returner also spent the summer in Evanston, so he learned to live up to the Wildcats' high conditioning standards.
But during NU's opening practice on Monday afternoon, the combination of the intense heat and the anxiety of the first official workout took its toll on the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Mark and other rookies.
Mark looked quick and assertive during punt-return practice at the start of drills - he's a legitimate contender to be on the field when the Wildcats open Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt - but he needed a trainer's attention before the practice hit the 30-minute mark.
"People up north seem to think if you're from down south and it's hot, you're OK," Mark said. "I was here this summer working out, but putting on cleats, ankle braces, helmets, the sun beaming down on you, running full speed - is totally different than working out in the air-conditioned weight room.
"Does that make sense?"
Definitely. Mark wasn't the only rookie who needed some nursing to work through his first day of Big Ten football - and everybody from fifth-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald to fifth-year senior receiver Sidney Stewart understood.
"I give the freshmen a hard time because, if you ask me, I think it's gotten easier," Stewart said. "My freshman year when we were out here, we couldn't see straight. It was hotter, it felt like. It was longer. We didn't know as much.
"But they're going to be fine. It was a hot one today. For a minute there, I cramped up but I pushed through it. And they'll learn to push through it."
"The (young guys) have no idea what they're doing," Fitzgerald said. "So just go out there and have some fun and let us coach 'em up a little bit."
Receivers coach Kevin Johns had his hands full with a 14-man group that included five rookies and three redshirt freshmen.
Johns had to teach his youngsters everything from how to run drills to staying onside on the snap to lining up in the proper spot in a formation.
And when Johns wasn't chirping at Mark, Rashard Lawrence, Tony Jones, Jimmy Hall and walk-on Torin Dupper, then Stewart and fellow starter Demetrius Fields piped up with advice.
"Snatch the ball out of the air," Stewart yelled during a drill where the quarterbacks fired spirals at close range. "Don't let it come to you."
The freshmen need to learn such lessons in a hurry because there are important roles to be filled.
Stewart, Fields and juniors Jeremy Ebert and Charles Brown are the starters, but new Wildcats need to account for a decent percentage of the 146 catches lost when Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer were graduated.
"A lot of young, good-quality dudes," said Stewart, evaluating the freshmen. "They're great players and they're going to prove to be great players in the future.
"But right now they're not immature, they're just young-minded. They've got some growing to do, but I'm really proud of them. I think they did well today."