Marquess Wilson flies under radar no more

PULLMAN -- Todd Sturdy eyed Marquess Wilson warily, like a coyote trying to sneak past a rattlesnake. "Do I really have to say anything good about him?" Sturdy asked with a straight face. Sturdy was only joking with Wilson, the freshman wide receiver who has made Sturdy's job infinitely easier at Washington State.

"He's had an outstanding year for a true freshman," said Sturdy, WSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He's done some great things. It's been a learning experience, obviously, as it always is the first time anybody plays, whether they're (redshirt) freshmen or true freshmen.

"I've been impressed with how he's picked up the system. He's got a good football mind."

Wilson, a skinny youngster who looks like he'll blow up upon impact, has instead made a major impact on WSU's offense. Nationally, he leads all freshmen and ranks 19th overall in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) with 88 receiving yards per game.

"We surely didn't expect it," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said.

He's not alone in that assessment. While Wilson was rated the No. 96 prep receiving prospect in the nation last year by, WSU and Arizona State were the only Pac-12 schools that offered Wilson scholarships. The rest of his hottest pursuers were from the WAC and Mountain West.

So under-the-radar was Wilson during the recruiting process that he wasn't even the highest rated of the five receivers WSU signed in its last class. That honor belonged to Bobby Ratliff, who is redshirting this season. pegged him the No. 89 high school receiving prospect in the land.

"HE'S PROBABLY PLAYED ABOVE my expectations," WSU sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel said of Wilson. "I knew he was a special player and could make plays, but some of the plays he has made have really impressed me."

Wilson, the second-leading receiver in the Pac-10, has nine receptions of 40 or more yards. He's a close second on the Cougars behind junior Jared Karstetter in catches (51) and touchdown receptions (five), and his 19-yard average per catch ranks fifth among the 50 leading receivers in the country.

"I didn't think I would be able to ‘blow up' like this my first year," Wilson said. "I thought it would take some time, because the corners in college football, I grew up watching them. I used to always think, ‘Oh, these guys are excellent, I can't ever compare with them.' But coming out playing with them, I realized I have the ability do what other guys do."

ACTUALLY, WILSON CAN already do what most receivers will never do, even though he didn't turn 18 until Sept. 14 and says he carries just 179 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame (he's listed at 6-3, 173). Wilson says he hopes to play at 190-195 pounds next year after gaining much-needed strength in the weight room.

"Down the road, I think he's going to be a great NFL prospect," Tuel said.

Wilson hopes to prove Tuel right, and he's interested in following his stepfather's lead and becoming a middle school teacher and coach once his playing days end. Wulff and Sturdy said they're impressed with Wilson's maturity.

"He's handled the pace of this level and played up to this level," Wulff said. "Most first-year players rarely if ever do that."

"He's a wonderful kid with a great personality," Sturdy said. "Very coachable."

Wilson, a native of Tulare, Calif., needs just 32 yards in Saturday's season finale against visiting Washington (4 p.m., Versus) to become the eighth Cougar with 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

"It feels good," Wilson said, "but I really don't get into all that. Sometimes when people look at themselves or notice they're on top, they tend to get a big head. I don't like doing that. I'm more about not worrying about that stuff and just play."

WILSON SAID he enjoys working with demanding, well-respected receivers coach Mike Levenseller, one of WSU's all-time leading receivers. In fact, Wilson seems to love just about everything at Washington State -- even the snow.

"I came up here on my (recruiting) visit and I realized how everybody up here was just one big family," Wilson said. "Everybody loves each other. Everyone just got along perfect. I realized they all had a mindset of trying to become one of the best (teams) … they all had heart and wanted to be better. It helped a lot in making my decision seeing a team that wants to get better, and I wanted to be part of that."

The Cougars are 2-9 and will finish last or tied for last in the Pac-10, but Wilson says the future is bright for a team that starts five freshmen.

"I can't say I'm happy (with WSU's record)," Wilson said, "but I'm not mad because the way we played this year, we showed everybody how we can play and showed everybody that we have the opportunity to become one of the top teams."

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