WSU’s Gabe Marks: You don’t say no to Mike Leach

LEWISTON – Gabe Marks is back, and that’s great news for reporters and bad news for defensive backs. Two years after leading Washington State in receptions, and one year after redshirting, Marks has looked sharp in fall camp. He still talks a good game, too, as he demonstrated when a reporter asked him about his goals for the season.

“Being the best in the conference, the best in the country at doing my job,” Marks replied.

Marks tends to deliver brash statements like that in a matter-of-fact tone that seems to imply success is not just likely, but inevitable. The Los Angeles native has played with confidence since he arrived at WSU in 2012, after newly hired coach Mike Leach convinced Marks to de-commit from Southern Methodist.

“You don’t say no to Mike Leach,” Marks explained later.

Leach appreciates Marks’ zest for playing football almost as much as Leach appreciates Marks’ ability to catch footballs. A healthy Marks, an outside receiver who lines up at the Z in WSU’s Air Raid offense, could crack the top 10 in various WSU career receiving statistics this season, and Marks didn’t blink when Leach said the junior wide receiver may challenge single-season WSU receiving records posted by Vince Mayle last year.

“Stay home if you don’t want to top that,” Marks said. “That season changed his life.”

Mayle, a onetime junior college basketball player who blossomed as a senior after a so-so junior season, is now in camp with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Marks has designs on an NFL career after catching 49 balls as a freshman (one of the best frosh totals in school history) and grabbing 74 balls as a sophomore.

The 74 receptions ranks fourth in WSU history, and two of the men ahead of Marks (Mayle with 105 and Isiah Myers with 78) had the benefit of playing with all-time Cougars passing leader Connor Halliday last year. Marks also caught his share of Halliday passes, but Marks sounds like he’s suitably impressed with Luke Falk, the redshirt sophomore who appears set to replace Halliday.

“Smart guy,” Marks said. “He puts you in good positions (to catch the ball); he’s not going to get you murdered out there, you know what I mean?

“He knows how to read defenses. He knows his offense like the back of his hand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone watch as much film as he has since he’s been here.

“He wants to win,” Marks added. “At the end of the day, that’s all that matters to him. If that means he has a huge game throwing the ball or if he does something else to help the team, like get us in the run ‘checks’ or something like that, he’ll do it. You’ve got to respect that about a quarterback.”

Leach chose to redshirt Marks last season due to an overload of talented senior receivers, coupled with the fact that Marks missed spring ball due to an unspecified surgical procedure. Marks made himself useful as a scout-team receiver and, on occasion, a quarterback when the Cougars were preparing for a QB with good running skills.

Marks, a skinny 167-pounder when he arrived at WSU as a 4-star recruit, now carries a solid 190 pounds on his 6-foot frame. Marks watched helplessly as the 2014 Cougars struggled with team chemistry, woeful special teams play and inexperience on defense, but Marks likes what he’s seeing in the current team.

“It’s a totally different feel,” Marks said. “The energy is so much higher. In the weight room, or you see it everywhere. It’s just enthusiastic about everything. It’s a tight-knit group.”

Marks said he believes a closer team is “going to help us win a couple games.” That’s encouraging news for a fan base that watched the Cougars win just three of 12 games a year ago.

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