2008 Hall of Fame bio: Mark Novara
Athletics - posted on 9/29/2008
Even a self-described "pocket passer" finds the end zone with his feet a few times.
That's exactly what happened when Mark Novara, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback with a husky build, rushed for three touchdowns in a thrilling 41-33 comeback victory for the Lakeland football team at Concordia, Wis., on Oct. 11, 1997.
"I'm not sure if they kept rushing stats back then, but I'm sure I finished with negative rushing yards for each season," said Novara, who did, in fact, finish with minus-34 rushing yards in the '97 season.
Novara, a 1998 Lakeland graduate who holds virtually every Lakeland single game, season and career passing record in existence, led the Muskies on a furious comeback that day. Lakeland was down 33-0 when it scored for the first time in the contest with 7:07 left in the third quarter. Forty-one unanswered points later, the Muskies had their sixth win in a season on the way to a 10-0 record, just the second undefeated team in school history.
"It was an incredible game," Novara said. "(Former Lakeland) President (David) Black, who was a pretty big fan of the football team, was running up and down the sidelines cheering us on. It was nuts."
Novara also threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns in the game. All-American wide receiver Brandon Lawson registered 17 receptions in the game, setting a school record which still stands today. Novara said he is grateful to have played with great players such as Lawson and fellow wide receiver George Schultz.
A four-year starter in the program, Novara was featured in the "run and shoot" offense, which is characterized by spreading the field, usually with four wide receivers in a single-back formation. It is a complex passing scheme which requires a smart, quick-thinking quarterback, and a system that tires opposing defenses by using the entire field.
"It is a quarterback's dream to pass all the time," Novara said. "It's not that fun to hand the ball off (to running backs) a lot. I remember throwing something like 76 passing attempts during a game freshman year, so it's literally almost all throwing. The games were always longer, usually four or sometimes even five hours."
Novara's head coach was Randy Awrey, who remembered Novara as one of the finest players he has ever coached.
"Mark was a phenomenal young man to work with, a fantastic leader and and had excellent huddle presence," Awrey said. "He was a winner from day one and the heart and soul of those teams."
Awrey recalled a time when former Lakeland coach John Thome commented after watching one of Novara's first games that he couldn't imagine how good the left-handed Novara was with his right hand.
"At the Division III level, Mark was like a Johnny Unitas or a Joe Montana, he was that kind of a leader, player and quarterback," Awrey said. "He was just a tough, 'go-get-it-done' type player from a great family in the Iron Mountain (Mich.) area."
Novara credits his two offensive coordinators, Dan Enos and Bill Unsworth, for much of his success.
Enos, who coached Novara in 1994 and 1995, is a former Rose Bowl-winning quarterback at Michigan State, where he currently is in his third year on the Spartan coaching staff.
"That was Coach Enos' first stint on a coaching staff," Novara said. "He was really young, but really good. We knew he'd be in the Big Ten some day."
Unsworth ran the offense for Novara's final two years. He is currently in his first season as the offensive coordinator at Tiffin (Ohio) University, a Division II school.
"Coach Unsworth is the best offensive coordinator I've ever dealt with," Novara said. "He had been around football for a while already. He was very smooth."
Novara, a Kingsford, Mich., native, transferred from Northern Michigan University to Lakeland in 1994 and doesn't regret his decision.
"After I contacted Coach Awrey, I knew I had a chance to start right away," Novara said. "Lakeland was very different from Northern Michigan. When I came here, people made me feel like I belonged.
"We had kind of cleaned house my freshman year, brought some new people in, and I think we started 17 freshman out of 22 starters. We were 4-6 that year, but each year we got a little bit better."
The climax came in 1997 in Novara's senior season, when he led the Muskies to a perfect 10-0 record and their second consecutive Illini-Badger Conference title. In the final game of that season, a 51-0 victory over Division II opponent Kentucky Wesleyan, Novara set an NCAA Division III record with 894 career completions and received league Player of the Year honors for the second straight season.
All in all, Novara is currently 10th all-time among Division III quarterbacks with 292.1 passing yards per game, seventh in career passing yards (11,101), 15th in career touchdown passes (100) and holds the 13th-highest mark for touchdowns in a season when he tossed 40 in 1996.
Novara still considers several of his teammates to be his best friends, including guard Matt Dunlap, center John Kalk, linebacker Brian Thiry and strong safety Dave Cogemi. He also has maintained relationships with back-up quarterback Kevin Fix, as well as Awrey.
"Coach Awrey is a great mentor and a great person," Novara said. "He coached the defense, but I still spent hours in his office talking with him. People would always go in and talk to him, the door was always open."
Currently, Novara, 34, is a fourth grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School in his home town of Kingsford, and is in his third year as head junior varsity coach in his ninth year coaching football at Kingsford High School.
"My father was a teacher, so I kind of took his guidance," Novara said. "Professor (Mehraban) Khodavandi was also a big influence for me to get into teaching, so I credit him for helping me get into education as well."
Novara has fond memories of his time at Lakeland, and said he feels like it is home in a sense.
"It's hard to explain, but I feel like I belong here," he added. "I needed Lakeland College more than it needed me. There were smaller classes, the professors all knew my name and who I was, and the coaches would get on me about missing class or assignments. I wasn't just an ID number here."
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