By Taylor Grafft
River Marks’ journey with the sport of football has been filled with surprises, adversity and triumph. After signing his letter of intent to play football for South Nazarene University on Monday, Marks will continue to pursue a dream that he didn’t think would have been possible a few years ago.
Marks was a soft spoken and calm player when he arrived at Liberty Hill his sophomore year from Georgetown. Marks made the Panthers’ varsity football team in his junior year, but says he wasn’t a big part of the team and didn’t start.
Things changed in 2013 when Marks was given a starting safety spot and took on a defensive leadership role with teammate Gary Denson.
“It’s been wild for sure,” said Marks when asked about his experiences as a senior this season. “Going 10-2 in football this season, beating our rival Burnet, and starting has been a great experience and now I’m focusing on running track.”
Marks joked that even though he’s only been at Liberty Hill for three years, he’s already developed a lifetime of dislike for the Burnet Bulldogs, and said that beating Burnet 14-7 this year was the best football experience of life.
Marks’ inspiration to play football came from his dad, who kept him enrolled in sports from a young age.
“My dad has been a big part of my success,” Marks said. “Since I can remember we went in the backyard and threw the football. He had me in every sport — soccer, football, baseball, track.”
Marks’ decision to play at SNU, which is located just outside Oklahoma City in Bethany, at the next level following his graduation from Liberty Hill was a dream come true for Marks. He said that during the process of picking a school to attend, it was very stressful on him trying to choose which school was right for him. He said the process was rather quick, but feels like he made the very best decision he could.
“SNU was my third and final visit,” said Marks. “When I went there I liked everything about it. I liked the weight room, the football coaches, the teachers I got to meet with. The campus was beautiful, the buildings were all red brick. It was also the right size for me. I didn’t want to be at a huge school, but I didn’t want to be at a tiny school either.“
Some people are born a natural leader, but for Marks it took a few seasons at Liberty Hill for him to be comfortable and adopt a role on the Panthers’ defense and really come out of his shell to grow into the dominant player that he was his senior year.
Most of Marks’ football teammates had been playing together their whole lives since grade school and youth league football. So it took Marks a while to get to know his teammates and have them accept him as a player.
“I don’t talk a lot,” Marks said. “On the field I let my play do the talking. I had to call plays as a free safety in the defense we ran this year, so there wasn’t a lot of time to be chatting before the snap. It was my responsibility to get everyone lined up in the right positions and figure out what the offense was doing.”
Practice is a different story for Marks. He said that he is loud in practice and makes sure the players around him are doing their jobs.
“There’s two different kind of people that I had to be a leader towards during practice,” Marks said. “There’s guys that you ride them hard if they can handle it, but if they can’t it’s my responsibility not to make them an outcast, but to take them over to the sideline and tell them where the player went wrong. I think that for those guys that I did take over to the sideline, it made us grow as teammates and they respected me more for not yelling at them and making an example of them in front of the others.”
Marks says that the coaches at SNU don’t plan to redshirt him when he arrives this fall. Marks was also promised a chance to return kicks in addition to playing on defense for the Crimson Storm.
“I was first team all-state for kick returning so that is something I would really like to continue at the next level,” he said.
Now Marks is turning to track this spring to keep himself in shape and focused while he concentrates on his grades and graduating from Liberty Hill.
The Panthers first track event is on Saturday, Feb. 15, when they host the Panther Relays. Marks will compete primarily in the Long Jump this season, but could compete in several relays once the team starts to practice more.