Marks always flying high, even in WSU sandpit

PULLMAN – Gabe Marks is on pace to put up some of the gaudiest receiving numbers in Washington State football history, but that only begins to explain why Marks is not your average Cougar. For starters, Marks says he LOVES the sandpit.

Marks in February of 2012 was the rare 4-star recruit who chose Washington State over big-name suitors. It's even more unusual for the Cougars to have a player make the Jewish All-America team, an honor bestowed upon Marks (6-0, 176) as a true freshman last season.

Stranger yet, Marks swears he loves the sandpit workouts that have become so notorious since Mike Leach came to Pullman. And strangest of all for a Cougar, Marks is a huge fan of former Washington Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel, who will forever remain public enemy No. 1 in the hearts of many WSU fans.

"Rick's my boy -- he's a great guy," Marks says.

Washington State fans will forgive Marks for his fondness for Neuheisel (who was still coaching at UCLA when he recruited Marks) as long as he keeps putting up monster stats. His 11 catches last Saturday against Idaho left him one short of the school single-game record. With 31 receptions in four games this year, he's on track to break Marquess Wilson's school record of 82 catches in a single season.

The colorful Marks, every bit as quick witted off the field as he is quick footed on it, sat down with on Monday afternoon for an in-depth interview.

CF.C: You originally made a verbal commitment to play for Southern Methodist, but you changed your mind after the Cougars hired Leach. How come?

Marks: He called me and Teondray up (WSU running back Teondray Caldwell has been a friend and teammate of Marks since childhood in Venice, Calif). We were chillin' on the couch at home, watching TV, watching a game. He (Leach) was like, "How would you guys like to come play football at Washington State?" I'm like, "All right." It's Mike Leach. You don't say no to Mike Leach, you know what I'm saying?

CF.C: rated you four stars and the 39th-best college wide receiver prospect among high school seniors in 2011. Did WSU's previous coaching staff offer you a scholarship?

Marks: They didn't even recruit me. They didn't even bother.

CF.C: You had offers from such schools as UCLA, Boston College, Utah, Colorado, SMU and Kentucky. What advice from your grandfather helped lead you to commit to Washington State over schools like UCLA before you even visited Pullman?

Marks: He said, "You can stay home and be comfortable and have everything you've always had growing up. Have your mom right on the corner and be secure and play football in L.A. Have all your friends here and stuff like that. Or, you can leave and go see some new stuff and become a man. Live on your own. Figure out life on your own. See what happens."

CF.C: You mentioned your mom but not your dad. As an only child, was he part of your life?

Marks: They separated when I was like 5. He was always around us. A good man. He was killed when I was 9. He got shot. Gang violence … wrong place, wrong time.

CF.C: What's it like playing for a demanding coach like Leach?

Marks: He's a great guy. Off the field, he's just like any regular person. He's a nice guy, easy to talk to. On the field, he coaches you hard, but that's what you want. That's what I wanted when I was choosing my school. I wanted someone that wouldn't be afraid to coach me hard and get the most out of me. He's not afraid to do that.

CF.C: Wilson and some other former WSU players obviously don't share your opinion of Leach. Why is that?

Marks: He's a tough coach. He expects a lot out of his players. I respect that about him. He's real black and white. There's no gray areas. It's not like if you're some great player, you get special treatment that the other guys don't get. I feel like that's how you become a better team. You have a more "together" team. There's no one that's bigger than the team.

CF.C: Leach loves that sandpit for conditioning, and occasionally for disciplinary and other reasons. The receivers got sent to the pit for losing focus last week, but you say you're OK with that. Why?

Marks: It's always deserved. It's great. We love the sandpit. We don't even look at it as a punishment. He says it's time for the sandpit, we're like, we're lobbying for it. We love it. It's a great place to be. Great work's done in there.

CF.C: You were an outstanding receiver at Venice High, but you actually received more honors as a safety and cornerback. Did you consider playing defense in college?

Marks: I was a pretty good cornerback. Some people had me ranked higher as a corner than a receiver, which is kind of crazy. Some schools tried to recruit me as a corner. Oregon tried to talk to me about playing defense, and Michigan came in one day and tried to talk corner. I was like, "No." I wasn't going to do that. I don't really like tackling people. It's not my thing. I don't think that's a good idea. I like running AWAY from people. That's kind of my thing.

CF.C: Do you hope to do "your thing" in the NFL some day?

Marks: Yeah, I'd like to get paid for all the hard work. Why not? Everybody's dream should be to want to play at the highest level. I like to look at myself as an ultimate competitor, so I want to play against the best of the best. That's why I came to the Pac(-12 Conference).

CF.C: One of the country's best teams – fifth-ranked Stanford – comes to Seattle to play the Cougars on national television Saturday night in a key Pac-12 game. You keep calling it "another game." Care to explain?

Marks: You can't over-think yourself. You go out thinking it's going to be some crazy game, the biggest game of your life, you'll probably play bad.

CF.C: We know you expect to win Saturday, but both teams have stout defenses. Do you expect a high-scoring or low-scoring game?

Marks: I hope it's high scoring, because I'll be having a lot of fun out there.

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