TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State redshirt freshman safety Mark Sewall knows comparisons are inevitable.
Sewall’s older brother, Alex, played at ISU from 2008-11 and was also a safety. Alex was a four-year starter, was an all-conference standout for the Sycamores and was a major building block in ISU’s rise to respectability.
No matter, says Mark. As he continues his maiden season as a Sycamore, he wants to forge his own legacy — one that exceeds that of his big brother.
“There’s definitely a little bit of burden to have his name in front of you. It casts a shadow, but I think it’s nice to have a goal to work towards. I know Alex had a great career here, I tell him that all of the time, but I think I’ll be better than him,” Mark said.
Alex Sewall, a graduate assistant for ISU who is recovery from a spring knee injury that delayed his professional aspirations, has no problem being used as a barometer of Mark’s success.
“I like that. I like that he’s using me as something to shoot for or even do better. If that’s what he can accomplish, I think it’s great. Other players look to me that way as well. They want to follow in the footsteps of what last year’s seniors got going,” Alex Sewall said.
So far, Mark is on the right track. After sitting out the 2011 season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Mark Sewall is blazing a very similar path that Alex did. Mark is, in effect, the co-starter at free safety with Donovan Layne as they rotate plays. Layne missed the second game of the season, so Mark has seen more a few more snaps.
“[ISU defensive coordinator Jesse] Minter decides how and when we play. We usually switch off on each possession and we’re both on the field for nickel and dime situations,” Mark Sewall said.
Mark Sewall is part of a secondary that’s been stingy against the pass. ISU is ranked 36th in the nation in pass defense as ISU has conceded 175.25 yards per game. Sewall himself has 12 tackles — including one for a loss — three pass break-ups and he had a 77-yard return on an interception against Quincy on Sept. 8.
Though they play the same position, Mark plays it differently than Alex Sewall did. Alex was renowned for his hitting ability and his acumen at playing downhill. Mark is more a pass-defending drop-back safety who isn’t necessarily going to make the highlight hit, but who’s more likely to tip a ball or take a receiver out of a play.
“He’s a physical, open-field tackler. I think I can make more game-changing plays in the back end against passing … and I can step up in the box when needed,” said Mark, who is already halfway to Alex’s career total of two picks.
ISU coach Trent Miles doesn’t feel the beat has been missed as the torch was passed to the younger Sewall sibling.
“He’s doing a good job. He’s playing well for us on special forces [teams] and defense. He’s very athletic, he’s smart and he’s tough. He’s a valuable guy because he can play either safety spot. It’s big that he’s here,” Miles said.
The interesting dynamic between Mark and Alex Sewall is the state of the ISU program when each got their start. When Alex arrived in 2008, it was every freshman for themselves. ISU had very few veterans to fall back on and Alex was one of several first-year players who were thrust into a sink-or-swim situation. Alex was an immediate standout, giving ISU’s pass defense an intimidating edge from jump.
Mark Sewall arrived in 2011 as the finished product was beginning to develop. His knee injury occurred during two-a-days last summer, which took away the possibility that the Sewall brothers could play side-by-side.
“Alex had to come in and play and learn on the play. Mark didn’t get a chance to do anything until spring football. It’s good because he’s better physically than he was. Mark is the way we want to do it — bring them in for five years and let them develop physically. Alex had to be a player right away, and he was, but think of all of those seniors, you wish you had them this year,” Miles said.
The motivation that Alex Sewall provides to Mark Sewall to have the better ISU legacy is one that has served Mark well throughout his football career.
“Having him as an older brother helped me push myself to being better at what I can. He’s a hard worker and he’s always pushing me to be better,” Mark said.
As for Alex — whose left arm was in a sling Wednesday after a pectoral injury — he is hoping his professional career can get back on track come next spring.
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting fully healthy and get into the shape I was last spring. If I’m in shape and 100 percent healthy, I’ll definitely have a shot at the next level. I still believe that. I had a good career here, I love the game and that’ll catch someone’s eye,” Alex said.