Venice duo signaling change for WSU in SoCal?

WHEN GABRIEL MARKS signed his paperwork sporting a gray hoodie Wednesday morning, he became the first four-star recruit from Southern California to sign with Washington State from the high-school ranks since defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu from Serra in San Diego in 2005. But Marks' coach at Venice, Angelo Gasca, told CF.C there are multiple reasons he expects that to change under coach Mike Leach.

And it was not one but two of Gasca's players who ended up in Pullman this year, with 5-foot-10, 185-pound Venice running back Teondray Caldwell (Class of 2011) coming on board at Wazzu in January.

Marks initially committed to Southern Methodist during the summer, a decision Gasca felt came too quickly.

"Everyone is trying to speed these kids' decisions offers up," he said, adding that players are forced to commit or risk losing scholarship offers. "I don't think it's necessarily the right or fair thing to do. They don't really get a chance to take the five visits that the NCAA allows."

Marks' status changed late last year when SMU coach June Jones appeared headed to Arizona State to succeed Dennis Erickson. But ASU officials pulled their offer to Jones and he returned to the Mustangs.

"It was sort of a blessing," Gasca said. "It really opened Gabe's eyes to the reality of recruiting."

AROUND THE SAME time, Leach hired former UCLA offensive coordinator Jim Mastro as his running backs coach at WSU. Mastro was the offensive coordinator in 2010 at Nevada, which signed Caldwell last February. But Caldwell, a close friend of Marks', did not qualify. Gasca said Nevada's coaching staff elected not to pursue Caldwell again, which led him to WSU based on his relationship with Mastro.

"The fact that Teondray is going there as well only made (more of) an impact," Gasca said. "They're close."

Gasca said both also share an impressive work ethic.

"He and Gabe are kind of gym rats," he said. "They love to go out and run routes all day."

GASCA SAID CALDWELL'S skill set makes him a good fit for the Cougars' offense.

"He has the ability to get out and run routes like a wide receiver," said Gasca, noting that he has had several running backs, including Wale Forrester (California), Byron Ellis (Colorado) and Curtis McNeal (USC) play at major colleges in the last decade. "He's good running in tight quarters."

Caldwell's presence was not the only factor that led Marks, who had several offers from other BCS programs, to WSU. Enter Leach, who had an 84-43 record at Texas Tech.

"I don't think you could ever predict that Mike Leach would end up at a Pac-12 school," Gasca said. "It made Gabe take a step back and take a closer look."

Marks was ranked the 39th-ranked receiver nationally in this class by Scout.com. The top-ranked wide out in Southern California was Bellflower's Bryce Treggs, who was No. 5. Treggs signed with California.

"Gabe takes a backseat to no one in Southern California," Gasca said.

Gasca said the 5-11, 175-pound Marks was an outside receiver in his spread offense, but has been told he will play inside in Leach's scheme.

EITHER POSITION is a good fit for a player that at times, Gasca said, reminds him of NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann.

"He's so fluid and acrobatic," Gasca said. "Aesthetically, he's incredible to watch. He has great ball skills and the ability to separate."

And Marks wanted to find a pass-happy offense that would highlight those skills, which led to Jones and then Leach.

"That definitely impacted Gabe," Gasca said. "He wants to make himself a better, more impact player."

GASCA HIMSELF PLAYED QB at Long Beach State and later coached at Northern Illinois before he returned for a second stint at Venice, where he has been since 1996. With Leach in the South, his previous interactions were limited. He said he does not recall Leach signing anyone from Venice while he was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky and Oklahoma or during his 10-year stint as coach at Texas Tech.

But Gasca said there are reasons that Leach, now at WSU, has quickly developed a rapport with recruits in the Los Angeles basin. One is Leach's "affable personality" that appeals to both coaches and players.

Gasca said that extends to the gridiron with Leach's famed "Air Raid" offense.

"When you play that style of football, it's fun," he said. "You're throwing the football around. It's not three yards and a cloud of dust."

GASCA SAID ANOTHER strong recruiting pitch for Leach was his high graduation rates at Texas Tech. He said that is not insignificant because he stresses the importance of a college education to athletes.

Gasca cites tight end Eddie Robinson, a Venice alum who signed with the Cougars in 2002 after two years at a junior college, as an example. While Robinson had minimal impact on the field, Gasca said he earned his degree.

He said the same occurred with Adam West, who signed with WSU out of Venice in 2001. West started out as a tight end before moving to the defensive line. His contributions on the field mostly were limited to special teams.

Gasca has not had a player sign with the Cougars since defensive end Asly Jean-Jacques in 2006. Jean-Jacques was signed by then-coach Bill Doba, but were suspended under Doba and then later dismissed from the program under Paul Wulff for unspecified violations of team rules. Gasca said he did not carry a "grudge," but said he was not happy about the situation.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Because of the quick turnaround between Caldwell's commitment and the start of the spring semester, he never took an official visit to WSU before enrolling.

    Gasca said it is difficult for him to think of a much different scenario than going from Venice to the golden rolling hills of the Palouse. But he said that he likes the campus and thinks it is good for his players to get a different perspective.

    And yes, Gasca has been to Pullman. He was close with former coach Mike Price and brought seven of his players to campus for the Cougars' team camp in 2002.


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