Throughout fall camp, the buzz around one of Washington State’s receivers has grown to near-legendary heights and his list of accomplishments has already begun to sound like urban legend.
He caught seven touchdowns in one practice — at least one against the entire two deep of Damante Horton, Nolan Washington, Tracy Clark and Daniel Simmons. After several of those scores the young receiver flipped the ball and exclaimed, “Too easy.”
He snagged a nearly-uncatchable ball on a fade route with one hand and calmly tapped his toe in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown.
The receiver made a Willie Mays-style basket catch for a 70-yard touchdown that became the highlight of Washington State’s scrimmage on Saturday.
Yes, for true freshman wide receiver Gabe Marks, the college game has looked too easy.
Washington State coaches have taken notice.
After Tuesday’s practice, outside receiver coach Dennis Simmons sat in the endzone talking with All-American candidate Marquess Wilson and Marks for 10 minutes. The two receivers took a knee beside their coach and appeared to be listening intently.
Simmons’ message to his receivers was about how every great receiver in coach Mike Leach’s offense is compared to NFL first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree or All-Pro Wes Welker — and how they should strive for even more.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got a chance to create your own legacy. Instead of having someone compare you to somebody, you’ve got a chance and an opportunity to be the standard. If that’s important to you, you can control that,’ ” Simmons explained.
That’s the message already being delivered to the freshman phenom who has yet to take a college snap: Write your legacy.
First discovered at Washington State by running backs coach Jim Mastro and inside receivers coach Eric Morris, Marks committed to Washington State with less than a month to go before Signing Day and was clear about his reason for becoming a Coug.
“Just Mike Leach coming here and playing in the Pac-12 and knowing his offense and what he did at Texas Tech,” Marks said. “I always wanted to play here and when they called me and offered me a scholarship, it was a dream come true. I jumped on the wagon.”
Marks, who has blazing speed and incredible hands, arrived in fall camp not sure what to expect, but wanted to be ready for the next level.
“I came in just trying to get used to college football and adjust to the new team,” he said. “Of course I wanted to play, because I’m a competitor and that’s what I love to do, but whatever happened, happened.”
What happened was that he proved he deserved the 4-star status bestowed upon him by the recruiting sites. In fact, they might have been too low.
“After that first day I knew he had the demeanor to do some good things,” Simmons said. “The self-conscious part of me was like, ‘Okay, he’s doing it in shorts. Let’s wait and see what he looks like when he gets some pads on.’ He’s got something. ‘Okay, let’s wait and see what he looks like when we go live’... and so far, man, he’s been truly impressive.”
Recognizing his young teammate’s potential, Wilson has taken Marks under his wing to teach him how to be ready for Pac-12 play.
“Marquess is a great kid. He’s silly as all get-out, but he’s a great kid,” Simmons said. “I think he can identify some of the things that Gabe is going to go through.”
That could be all-conference honors down the road, but Marks is still focused on getting through fall camp.
As is typical for many young athletes, Marks passes the time during practice by talking trash.
“I’m just out there having fun. Camp is a long process. It’s grueling and there’s a lot of stuff you go through,” he said. “You’ve got to do stuff to have fun and get through the day sometimes. I just like to talk a little bit to get through the practices.”
It’s a trait that is a part of every elite player, Simmons said, and one that should not be considered a character flaw.
“He’s an awesome kid and he wants to be good at his craft,” Simmons said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been around a receiver that’s been a good player that wasn’t overly confident.”
But even with as good as his fall camp has been, Marks is not above the occasional freshman mistake.
“Last night, I was getting on him for a couple of things. I realize his legs are tired and he’s not what we’re used to doing, but that’s not the standard we are going to set here,” Simmons said. “I sent him a text last night and I don’t think the send button got all the way through before he replied back, ‘Coach, my effort will never be like that again.’ ”
It’s silly to ask if he will play. That’s not the issue. The issue is how much — and maybe — just how good can this kid be?
“Yeah, he will play. He will play a ton,” Simmons said laughing. “At this point in camp, I don’t want to let the bird out of the hat of who’s going to start, but he’s going to play and factor into the mix.”
Marks is ready to be an impact player at WSU right now. There will be no redshirt and it’s possible there will be little learning curve.
He’s already the type of player that leaves Simmons — and the rest of the coaches — thankful he chose the Crimson and Gray.
“God is good,” Simmons said.