BOZEMAN — Montana State defensive lineman Derek Marks has worked tirelessly to become a technician.
He's focused on the tedious details needed to square up and properly align.
“My dad builds cabinets for a living, and so I’ve just kind of grown up around it. I started working with him three years ago and just really enjoyed it. It was hard at first. Did that for a full summer, then I came back the next summer, knew how to do things a little more and my role got better and better as I stayed longer,” said Marks, who has helped his dad assemble cabinets in the summers between trying to dismantle opposing offensive lines in the fall.
Marks isn’t an accomplished cabinet-maker — according to him, his “job’s somewhat easy” — but the detail-oriented work done in the shop is reflected in his work on the field.
The similar progress is evident, too. As his cabinet-making role grew, so too has his role in the Bobcats’ front seven. Marks has moved from end to tackle as part of a unit that’s so far looked dominant in 2019.
“The cabinet thing kind of makes sense, just because he goes about his business on the football field in a similar fashion as far as just very tedious, technician, very much about just the small little details,” said MSU defensive coordinator Kane Ioane.
It’s that work that’s helped Marks transition into one of the team leaders, applying his off-field maturity to on-field tutelage. According to Ioane, Marks brings a “workmanlike mentality” to practice, meetings and film sessions and helps coach the younger players. As a Belgrade native, he’s not afraid to welcome new teammates to their new community.
In short, he’s an ambassador to the program, which falls in line with Marks’ future plans.
“I started out in mechanical engineering and realized that I didn’t really want to do that and decided I want to go into the ministry after football, so I switched to English teaching kind of just to prepare for that,” said Marks, adding that his passion for teaching the Bible stems from a conversation he had with former Bobcats Matt Thibault and Caleb Schreibeis.
Schreibeis won the 2012 Buck Buchanan Award after a sensational all-American season in which he totaled 59 tackles, including 15 for loss and 12.5 sacks. Schreibeis led the NCAA with eight forced fumbles that season.
Nobody is expecting that type of season from Marks, but, by his own admission, the Belgrade native wants to make more big plays during his senior year, even though he was involved in one of the biggest in recent Bobcat history.
By now, Marks sprinting down the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with the ball held high is one of the lasting images of Montana State’s comeback win over rival Montana last November. While it was Tucker Yates who forced the game-clinching goal-line fumble, Marks is the one who dove on the ball to help secure the win.
“Man, it was just a surreal feeling celebrating with our teammates there,” Marks recalled. “We all got in the locker room and we’re just looking at each other like, ‘What just took place out there?’ It was a pretty special time.”
Marks, like many around the Montana State football program, hopes the special times continue in 2019. Expectations are the highest they’ve been under coach Jeff Choate, who guided the Bobcats to the playoffs last fall in his third season.
But MSU is aiming for a Big Sky Conference championship, a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs and beyond this fall. For that to come to fruition, Marks will likely play a big role.
“Just kind of moving from end to tackle, I think I can affect the play more often just because I’m aligned closer to the ball,” Marks said. “So it’s just a matter of getting in the backfield consistently, playing in the backfield every play, and getting off blocks has been a big emphasis during this fall camp. It’s one thing to get in the backfield, but now it’s like, ‘OK, escape and make the play, take that next step to finish the play and have an impact on the game.’”
“I think it’s just really making sure that everything that he’s done in the offseason — because he’s put in the extra work as far as film work, just working on his craft as far as technique is concerned — and just having that carry over onto Saturdays and just letting loose,” Ioane added. “When Saturday comes into focus, it’s now just let loose and play, allow everything that you’ve worked to come to the forefront, and I trust that he’s going to be very productive for us this year.”