Penn State Soccer: Dani Marks Latest Chapter Finds Him In Happy Valley
Only a week after moving to the United States, Penn State freshman Dani Marks was already on crutches.
His right leg was wrapped in a large black velcro bace as he navigated the stairs and doorways of Rec Hall.
His injury was at best a sprain, at worst ligament damage following a simple running cut he made during a kids soccer camp earlier in the week.
But Marks didn't seem too concerned, brushing off the injury as perhaps something better than it appeared and if nothing else a hurdle in his soccer career rather than roadblock. As the door to the interview room was unlocked, he laughed at a remark about the warm weather in State College that day.
"I am from Israel," he said as he moved through the door "It is great here today."
Like many students who make their way to Penn State, Marks brings with him a unique story. Born in London to English parents he and his family moved to Israel when Marks was still a young child. It was a move that would shape Marks' life and not only on the soccer field. The move opened the pathway to Israeli citizenship, and with it mandatory service in that nation's military.
"At the age of three we moved to Israel," Marks said reflecting as he adjusted his brace. " ... where I lived until the age of 16. All throughout my time in Israel I played for one team, the local team."
Having played since the age of six, Marks would go on to be named captain and player of the year for his local club Hapoel Ra'anana before making yet another move to finish off his high school career.
"I did the last two years in Switzerland," Marks said. "We had the chance to go to school there. We have some Israeli friends there so I went to school and stayed with them."
Playing in Switzerland, Marks continued to see his skills improve. He was a defensive specialist, tasked with not only providing the goalie with additional help on the defensive front but to support offensive wing players as they pushed up the field. Some of the world's best players played the same role as Marks who was hopeful he would see his name rise to the top level one day.
Marks would get that chance to make an impression with the English Premire League club QPR in 2010 but at the age of 16 it was more a chance to learn than a real audition.
"It was an amazing experience," Marks said pausing for a moment. "To be honest it wasn't as nice as I expected. To be a Premiere League team in England. The coaches weren't very nice or very friendly. But it was a good experience."
Even with his career continuing onwards and upwards Marks slowly marched toward the day that he would inevitably be called to serve his country. His soccer plans would eventually be placed on hold and there was little he could do to stop it.
"As a teenager growing up you don't really think about it until the time that it actually happens," Marks said of his mandatory service. "It wasn't easy, because it interfered with my plans for soccer, to progress with my soccer career. So basically it put my career on hold for two years."
During his 16 months in the service Marks would pass the time as a tank mechanic and electrician. While he was not involved in any direct conflict he was still very much a part of his nation's cause. Even so there was a continuing frustration as Marks watched time pass with his education and soccer career on hold.
"I was based in the center of Israel," Marks said. "I wasn't out on the battlefield. Just basically running a place where they bring in tanks, we fix them and they go back out. It is a good feeling but always for me personally because it was interfering with my dreams and my ambitions it was a bit difficult to accept everything. But I did, I did accept everything because I had to, because it's the law in Israel."
Throughout his time in the service, Marks was hopeful to find a way to get back to his dreams and goals. While service is mandatory there are still ways for individuals to shorten their time in uniform. One such way is education. It was that avenue that Marks took and how he ended up in Happy Valley.
"It was a long process," Marks said. "I knew that basically I didn't want to put my career or even my education on hold until the age of 21. So I looked for ways to get out as soon as possible. So I was checking out and education was one of the ways to get offered to go some where.
"So around that time I had the ambition to go to college and once things started working out with Penn State and I saw that there was somewhere to go they released me."
Now in State College, Marks continues to work on his craft although an injury may see him miss some portion of the upcoming season. While at Penn State, Marks is hopeful to study journalism.
Even with his service complete and his time at Penn State only now starting, there is a part of Marks that is with his family. Technology keeps them close and in constant contact, but with his family living only 10 miles from Tel Aviv as the conflict in the region continues to escalate, it is impossible to ever completely forget where you have come from.
"They are safe," Marks said. "But I talk to them a lot, almost every day."
As Marks prepares to leave he clarifies his unintentionally fitting middle name. Pele. It's the name of a soccer legend but also Hebrew for magic.
"It worked out well," He said smiling.
Hobbling back down the hallway Marks knocks on a coach's door to talk about the injury. The smile is still there and he seems no more unhappy than he may have been the days before his injury.
"It's paradise here," Marks said "I hope that I can be healthy again soon so you'll have good things to write about me."
From London to Israel to a tank repair shop to State College, it's hard to imagine what is next for a Penn State freshman who has already seen and been through a lot. But it's safe to say the best story Marks can tell is the one he is currently living.