Gabe Marks’ best Mike Leach story

IT TOOK GABE MARKS a while to come up with his best Mike Leach story -- most of their interactions are simply matter of fact, says the Cougar star wide receiver. But the time Leach came up to him after last season's win at UCLA, where Marks became the all-time leader in receptions at Washington State, stands out.

“A prototype Mike Leach thing is that he’s just always about his business,” Marks said with a laugh. “The UCLA game…after we won he walked over to me and he’s like, (serious voice imitation) ‘Marks, uh, I want to congratulate you on the receptions record. You worked really hard at it. And let’s go win the next game now.’  So I’m like, ‘Yeah, thanks coach, it was pretty easy to catch 200-whatever balls.’ 

“I knew that was (all) I was going to get out of him. That’s the most Mike Leach story that I’ve got, all the rest of the stuff I won’t give out in public.”

Marks announced in late December he would return to WSU his senior season to take care of unfinished business: getting the Cougs back to the Rose Bowl. In a nutshell, Marks said he was already leaning towards returning after a conversation with strength coach Jason Loscalzo about some highly regarded early draft entrants who ended up falling short in the NFL.  A couple weeks after that, Marks and his mom had a meeting with Leach, running backs coach Jim Mastro and special teams coach Eric Mele. Shortly after that meeting, Marks made it official he would stay. Mastro, who recruited him to WSU, “has been there from the beginning with me,” said Marks.

“But I don’t really like to make a big deal out of stuff like that (returning to WSU). I don’t want to make a big deal about it, I just wanted to go back to work.”

Marks will be working under a new position coach his senior season, with Dave Nichol the new outside receivers coach at WSU replacing Graham Harrell. Marks and Nichol's first time on the field together won’t come until spring drills kick off March 24 but Marks says he likes what he’s seen so far, including how Nichol has challenged the group to raise their games beyond last year.

“He’s all about football, he lives it and breathes it,” said Marks. “He’s in there all day… He’s really precise and he expects a lot out of us.”

Marks has 227 career receptions at WSU, just 67 grabs behind the all-time Pac-12 leader (Nelson Spruce, Colorado).  If he were to match his 104-reception total of last season, he’d finish third all-time in NCAA history.

Given the difficulty of some of Marks’ grabs his first three seasons, it might seem hard to believe but Marks isn’t happy with his hand strength. Catching oodles of balls in practice, and staying after practice to catch a bunch more, has of course been integral to his success. But he also learned something critical along the way, and it came from a former pupil of Leach.

“My hands aren’t as strong as I want them to be (but) from watching Michael Crabtree, when you attack the ball and try to snatch it out of the air it gives the DB less of a chance to slap it down. That’s something I’ve learned can get you a lot more catches than deflections…but the stuff that we do in the weight room with (Jason) Loscalzo really strengthens our hands a lot,” said Marks, who calls Loscalzo one of his "top role models."

Headed into spring, Marks says he’s working to ensure his route running stay crisp but for the most part, all the on-field work “will be done in time,” he says. Right now, his focus is most on building durability.

“I’m just trying to get stronger, I’m really trying to gain some more weight for the season so I can be more durable. I guess there were questions about my durability, I don’t really know, but I could obviously be bigger,” said Marks, who was listed on the official WSU roster last season at 6-0, 190 pounds.

Marks says he’s changed his diet, saying that taking his game to the next level required dietary changes.

“I’ve really focusing on eating a lot better food, and I feel better because of it,” said Marks.

But one thing that hasn’t changed are his goals when it comes to spring football. Ever since he came to WSU, Marks has wanted to be the best player at his position and to “out-compete everybody.”

“In spring, it’s probably easy I guess to go out there and kinda go through motions because there are no games around the corner… I just take it as an opportunity to try and assert a little bit of dominance out there.”

--Marks recently completed his fourth and final Midnight Maneuvers session at WSU. The most important thing Marks has learned from the two-week offseason conditioning circuit? Breathing.  “Midnight Maneuvers takes it out of you. You don’t get better at them, you don’t get stronger… I just try to help the younger guys who have come in… but it’s still hard for me,” said Marks.

--Marks isn’t feeling nostalgic about his final year on the Palouse and said he doesn’t think he will going forward, either.  “I don’t look at it like that, like this is the last ‘whatever,’ I’m just trying to focus on getting ready for the season. I feel if you start looking at it (like that) you lose focus on what you’re trying to do,” said Marks.

--Marks' four TD receptions vs. Arizona last season were a single-game first at WSU. No other Pac-12 wideout had four TD catches in a game this past season.

Click here for Gabe Marks' 2105 highlights

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