Who the heck does Gabe Marks think he is?

'WHO THE HECK does this guy think he is?' That was my exact thought after a lengthy conversation with Washington State Z receiver Gabe Marks just before the start of this season. He made a bold statement. I rolled my eyes. But seven games into the season, Marks is proving downright prophetic.

Back in late, August I set up a phone interview with Marks through WSU SID. If you've talked or met with Marks, you know he’s uber-confident. His swagger is always present on the field, and usually off.  I was looking forward to getting some good quotes. But when I asked him what he wanted to accomplish in 2015, it stopped me in my tracks.

“I'm excited to get back on the field too and be considered one of the top wide receivers in the country,” said Marks.
“I’m ready to focus on helping this team getting back to its winning ways. We want to get back on the map and get ourselves back to a bowl game."

I thought I misheard that first part and asked if he meant one of the best receivers in the conference. He didn’t hesitate.

“No. Country,” Marks said.

MARKS DIDN’T PLAY a down last season, going the redshirt route for the 2014 campaign with an undisclosed injury. The year before, as a sophomore for the Cougars, he was among the top receivers on the team, hauling in 74 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. Some very good numbers, no doubt, but not among the nation's elite. And he had some drops and fumbles late in that season, too.

I thought for him to think he’d be one of the top receivers in the country this season was, at best, a pretty big stretch. He redshirted for a reason. He needed to get fully healthy and pack on some pounds. I figured he’d have a solid 2015 campaign, but would also need some time to shake off the rust before getting back into the swing of things.

There wasn't a whole lot of buzz about Marks back in August when I spoke with him.  I heard more about first-year Cougar wideouts Tavares Martin and Kyrin Priester. Yet, here were are in late October and the numbers don’t lie.

Marks has 57 receptions for 717 yards and 10 touchdowns in but seven games.

Just how good are those numbers nationally? Marks’ 10 touchdown grabs are seventh-best, while his 8.1 receptions per game and 102.4 yards per contest are eighth and 12th in the land, respectively.

Marks told me the benefits of redshirting would undoubtedly be showcased early on, though I doubted him.  A year off from playing on Saturdays would require time to get in rhythm, I thought.

“It was just something I had to deal with,” Marks said of redshirting. “Although I couldn’t play, I had to find a way to make it productive. That’s what I did. I focused on getting better and improving myself. That was my way of looking at it.

“I knew I was a pretty good player, but I knew I could run harder. I would shy away from contact too. But my redshirt year, I spent a lot of time in the weight room and that helped me get stronger. Now I’m more confident.”

Marks has flourished under WSU first-year outside receivers coach Graham Harrell. He was downright electric in the victory over Arizona with an eight-catch, 97 yard outing. His four TD grabs was something no other Cougar had accomplished in a game - ever.  Just as key, he's put on 15 pounds of muscle between the 2013 and 2015 seasons.

“It feels good to win,” Marks told the medis in Tucson. “Every game, it seems like we’re talking about how this is going to be our game but when you’re winning, the pressure gets higher and higher. This is definitely our biggest win of the season. Every game I feel like we’re solidifying ourselves and showing ourselves that we’re the team that we thought we would be.”

A FOURTH-YEAR JUNIOR, Marks is No. 4 on WSU’s career receptions list with 180. He’s two behind Brandon Gibson, trails Marquess Wilson by nine and stands 15 behind all-time leader Michael Bumpus.

Marks should become No. 1 by the end of the season. Heck, he could do it in two games if he repeats his output from Arizona. What's especially important to note here: WSU's Air Raid spreads the ball around - a lot.  That Marks is on such a scorching is a testament to just how damned good he's been.

Marks was (finally) added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list a little over a week ago, the award given to the nation’s top receiver in the country. If he continues to put up numbers like he has and Washington State (5-2) continues to get the kind of national press they have the last couple of weeks, it's well within the realm for Marks to become Washington State's first-ever Biletnikoff winner.

That's something that sure sounded crazy to me in late August, but not anymore.  

Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award (first awarded in 1994) twice under Leach (2007, 2008).

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