Cougars have found a second deep threat, Gabe Marks, to complement returning star Marquess Wilson in new coach Mike Leach’s bombs-away air attack.
Their demeanors are as divided as Chad Johnson’s marriage.
One is laid-back. The other is intense.
One talks more trash than Gary Payton. The other would like to let his numbers speak for themselves.
In fact, their play through the first two weeks of WSU’s grueling fall camp has looked similar. That should come as a surprise to those who’ve followed Wilson’s record-setting career with the Cougars.
He enters his junior year after an 82-catch, 1,388-yard 2011 season that earned him honorable mention All-America honors from Sports Illustrated and a second-team All-Pac-12 selection. Easily the team’s most dangerous downfield threat, Wilson, from Visalia, CA., hauled in five catches of 50 yards or more during his team’s 4-8 campaign.
And yet, he hasn’t been the best performer of fall camp. It’s not for a lack of production, either.
Ranked the 39th best receiver in the country in Scout.com’s 2012 recruiting cycle, the freshman has embarrassed, juked and humiliated every member of WSU’s secondary at least once the past two weeks.
All apart of the plan, according to Cougars’ outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons.
I think he came in with the goal, Hey, Im gonna play as a freshman, and theres nothing thats going to deter him from accomplishing that goal, Simmons said. Its good to see that hes that mature and dedicated to his craft at this stage in his career.
Witnessing a practice where Marks doesn’t haul in a long reception has been a rarity. In Saturday’s scrimmage, the freshman bolted past a cornerback and safety before making a Willy Mays-like basket catch over his shoulder en route to a 70-yard touchdown reception.
In practice later that week, the Venice, CA., product reeled in another long touchdown grab from Connor Halliday. He then ran to the group of reporters watching from behind the end zone, held out the ball and yelled, “There it is. That’s what y’all want.”
“He’s a competitor like everyone should be out here,” Wilson said of his brash teammate. “He fights for what he wants. As a freshman, he wants to prove his point.”
Marks seemed to agree when asked why he enjoys a bit of verbal jousting.
“It’s just the heat of the competition,” he said. “I’m competitive so when I win I like to let them know about it sometimes. We’re just out here working. It’s all fun.”
Wilson, meanwhile, found little cause for optimism during WSU’s spring camp, his effort at times so poor that Leach felt compelled to call out his star playmaker publicly. One-part the product of adjusting to a new coaching staff, the other lingering injuries from the 2011 season. Wilson’s fun-loving persona on the field disappeared.
“It was pretty tough at the beginning because I was so close to (former wide receivers coach Mike Levenseller),” Wilson said. “He was one of the main reasons why I came here so it was just a big change for me. Id never been through a change like that and it was tough to get used to the new coaches.”
After a few quiet weeks of spring camp, he silenced critics by catching four passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in WSU’s annual Crimson and Gray Game at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium.
Then came time for a bit of inner reflection.
Hes come to work with a hunger this camp that he was lacking last spring, Simmons said. I think he took a step back, got some little owies healed up and just kind of developed a new love affair with the game.
The downtime has yielded a re-energized leader that’s impressed Leach with his ability to shed defenders at the line of scrimmage and occasionally pancake an unsuspecting defensive back.
Yes, and he’s having fun again.
Hes not one of those guys who has to put on the mad face to come out here to play intense and play tough, Simmons said. Hes more like a Magic Johnson. When hes got that smile on his face and is running around and having fun hes playing hard.