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WSU's Isaiah Johnson-Mack learns from a receiving legend before stepping into those big-time shoes

PULLMAN – The proverbial elephant isn’t just in the room. After those back-to-back losses to Colorado and Washington, the ol’ pachyderm is actually snorting. It goes something like this: Gabe Marks and River Cracraft won’t be back next season, oh %#$&.

Between them, Marks and Cracraft have accounted for more than 500 Cougar receptions, ranking Nos. 1 and 2 on WSU’s all-time catches list.

In the next-man-up world of football, Isaiah Johnson-Mack is poised to be at center stage when it comes to replacing Marks at the Z position in 2017.

Given that Marks is the most prolific receiver in the 101-year history of the Pac-12, “replacing” him may be something of a misnomer. More like “trying to backfill a bit.”

But the 6- foot-3, 216-pound true freshman from Belle Glade, Fla., definitely shows big-time potential – as you might expect from a guy whose list of scholarship offers included Auburn, Florida and Miami. In fact, he was a verbal commit to the Gators before flipping to the Air Raid.

Johnson-Mack cited his good friend from Belle Glade, WSU sophomore receiver Tavares Martin Jr., as influencing his decision to move West – plus "Mike Leach and what he's accomplished in his career," he told CF.C last spring.

With good speed and impressive route running skills, Johnson-Mack broke into WSU’s receiver rotation this season as Marks’ understudy at the Z and proceeded to pull in 33 catches for 244 yards (7.4 yards per) and a touchdown.

Luke Falk has lauded Johnson-Mack and Leach last month said the young wideout’s progress is way ahead of schedule. Leach said having him learn at the feet of the great Marks has been critical to Johnson-Mack’s development. That’s a sentiment Johnson-Mack himself echoes.

"You learn from one of the best guys ever in the Pac-12, playing receiver here, so you learn a lot of things -- little things like different ways to run routes, different releases, so you get a lot better playing under guys like that," he said earlier this week following a practice for the Cougars’ Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl game against Minnesota.

"I mean you just go out and play every game as hard as you can, that's what Leach says, he just preaches that you play hard every play - take one play at a time. If you do that then you're going to be successful," he said.

Johnson-Mack said Dave Nichol, WSU’s first-year outside receivers coach, also has been key to his development. Nichol, who was a Leach assistant at Texas Tech before becoming offensive coordinator at East Carolina, is down-to-business yet able to keep the atmosphere loose.

"We like to joke around, have some fun in the meeting rooms, like just tell some jokes, we have some laughs …" he said.

The latest smile on Johnson-Mack’s was put there by the weather.

"It’s crazy, I like the snow. I mean this is my first time ever seeing real snow," he said, noting that a little snowball throwing and making of snowmen was on his agenda following the first downpour.

WAY-TOO-EARLY PROJECTION OF THE COUGARS’ RECEIVER DEPTH IN 2017:

  • X: Tavares Martin Jr. (61 catches this season) followed by Dezmon Patmon -OR- C.J. Dimry
  • H: Robert Lewis (27 catches this season) followed by Renard Bell
  • Y: Kyle Sweet (23 catches this season) followed by Kaleb Fossum -OR- Brandon Arconado 
  • Z: Isaiah Johnson-Mack (33 catches this season) followed by Grant Porter

Note: The projection above does not take into account members of the 2017 recruiting class, nor potential returnee Kyrin Priester (INCYMI on Priester, see related story below).

THE HOLIDAY BOWL:

  • When: Dec. 27, 4 pm Pacific
  • Where: Qualcomm Stadium/San Diego
  • TV: ESPN
  • The Line: Cougs by 9 ½
  • The Records: Both teams 8-4

RELATED: Could former Coug WR Kyrin Priester return in 2017?

 


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