Why Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football player Ken Marks is back for rare seventh season
Ken Marks could have moved on, satisfied knowing the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns finished 10-1 and won the First Responder Bowl in his sixth season playing for the program.
But when the NCAA offered all FBS players another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 23-year-old starting left guard took advantage of a rare chance to return as a seventh-season senior.
“God blessed me with it,” Marks said. “So, why not take it?”
Teammates were thrilled he did.
“That’s pretty cool, man,” starting center Shane Vallot said. “You don’t see often.
“But the guy, he’s dedicated to the game. He really loves it. He loves it here, and that shows you … we’ve got a guy on the team that really cares about us.”
Cajuns career could be complete
Marks, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound Texan, had already has spent the 2018 and 2020 seasons as a starter.
His knees ache, including the one surgically repaired after he got injured in UL’s 2019 season-opening game against Mississippi State at the Superdome, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
He already has a general studies bachelor’s degree — and is pursuing a second one in health and physical education — and already has spent five-and-a-half years in college.
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“Throughout (last) season I was always saying, ‘I’m done. My body’s getting tired,’ ” said Marks, a Beaumont Central High product who redshirted during his first season at UL in 2015 and played just a few snaps in the fourth quarter of one game in 2016.
“But when it got toward the end, I talked with my mom (D’Wanda) and my dad (Kenrick), and I talked to Coach Sale (Rob Sale, then UL’s offensive line coach), and we came up with a plan.
“I came up with everything I needed to do to get myself ready to come back if I wanted to,” he added, “and Coach Sale was always like, ‘It’s up to you … and I’ll be happy with whatever decision you make.’ ”
Sun Belt title proves elusive
Sale didn’t press Marks, who turns 24 years old in June, to make up his mind and didn't give him a deadline.
Many around the program, though, hoped he’d stick around to help the Cajuns pursue a Sun Belt championship that so far has eluded the Cajuns.
UL lost the league’s first two championship games, in 2018 and ’19, at Appalachian State. Last year’s game was canceled due a COVID-19 outbreak within the Coastal Carolina program, nixing a third straight appearance for the Cajuns.
“He really wants to win a conference championship, if you can’t tell,” Vallot said. “He’s staying until we win one.”
But the truth is that Marks had decided to come back for 2021 even before learning the championship game at Coastal Carolina would not be played.
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Marks still has lots to learn
Shortly after UL’s Dec. 4 win over longtime nemesis Appalachian State, its first win in nine games against the Mountaineers, he knew what he wanted to do.
Marks will be one of two seventh-year seniors playing for the Cajuns next season, along with starting inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner.
Yet since Marks made his decision, much has happened.
Sale, also the Cajuns’ offensive coordinator for three seasons, left to become offensive line coach of the New York Giants. UL hired former Florida Atlantic offensive line coach Jeff Norrid to replace Sale and ex-Sam Houston offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton to assist him.
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Norrid is third offensive line coach for Marks during his Cajuns tenure.
One constant the last six seasons, however, is Marks' desire to guide others on how to leave their own marks on the program.
“I’d like to … help the younger guys to develop,” Marks said.
“As for myself … yesterday I was laughing with Coach Des (assistant coach Michael Desormeaux). We were talking about something, and I’m like, ‘I’m always learning, no matter how long I’ve been here. There’s always something new that you learn.’
“That’s just how life is,” Marks added. “It keeps going.”