Going into his senior season at WSU and reflecting on his redshirt year, Gabe Marks concludes that the staph infection was one of the best things that ever happened to him because it forced him to take the time to refine his identity and learn to become a better receiver.
When Gabe Marks was fighting to recover from an internal staph infection that almost cost him his life two years ago, there were days when he wondered why it had to happen to him.
After leading Washington State in receptions and yards during his sophomore season, Marks was on the brink of a breakout year. Then in March 2014, Marks got pneumonia that ultimately devolved into something worse.
Doctors still aren’t sure what caused the internal staph infection in Marks’ pelvis, but the receiver’s theory is that he threw up nonstop so violently one night that he tore something in his pelvis that eventually got severely infected.
Pac-12 football media days
The Huskies and Cougars figure to be two of the more talked-about teams during the two-day event at Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood, Calif. Both teams should be serious contenders in the Pac-12 North this season.
How to watch:
Thursday: The Washington State news conference, featuring coach Mike Leach, WR Gabe Marks and LB Parker Henry, is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. The WSU contingent then will sit down for live interviews on the Pac-12 Networks beginning at 12:32 p.m.
Friday: The Washington news conference, featuring coach Chris Petersen, TE Darrell Daniels and CB Kevin King, is set for 11 a.m., with their live Pac-12 Networks interviews scheduled to begin at 12:04 p.m.
Note: The Pac-12 preseason media poll is scheduled to be released at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and will be posted promptly at seattletimes.com.
The staph latched on and grew on Marks’ pelvic bone, and he spent the next month in the hospital. At one point, doctors told Marks that if the staph didn’t take to the antibiotics they had prescribed, there was a chance they might have to cut off a portion of his pelvic bone and he might never play football again.
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Fortunately for Marks, the antibiotics worked. But the infection ravaged his body so severely that it took him six months to fully recover and get back onto the field.
Marks never lost sight of his football goals, though. In 2015, Marks’ first season back from his redshirt year, the receiver picked up right where he’d left off and set school season records in receptions (104) and receiving touchdowns (15), while leading the Cougars with 1,192 receiving yards.
Going into his senior season at WSU and reflecting on his redshirt year, Marks concludes that the staph infection was one of the best things that ever happened to him because it forced him to take the time and space to refine his identity and learn to become a better receiver.
“I really got a chance to take stock of who I wanted to be and who I was, and it really mellowed me out a little bit, to have more time on my hands,” Marks said.
It also left a lasting impact on his game because he got the chance to watch the Air Raid from a different vantage point and really understand how Mike Leach’s signature offense should be run, Marks said.
Fundamentally, the Air Raid is not complicated to learn. But it can be difficult to master because, from a receiver’s standpoint, success is highly contingent on the perfection of timing and the replication of routes with a high level of consistency and pinpoint accuracy.
“The hardest part is to just handle the mentality of being there and being in the same spot every time,” Marks said. “It’s hard to do, and it took me until I got sick and I took the year off to figure out how to be there.”
To some extent, Marks is still learning how to walk the line between creativity and precision when he runs his routes.
Gabe Marks file
Position: Wide receiver
Height, weight: 6-0, 188
Year: Redshirt senior
Hometown: Venice, Calif.
In his urgency to get open for his quarterback, Marks occasionally breaks off short at the top of his routes. This fall, outside receivers coach Dave Nichol hopes to help Marks develop a keener sense of when to execute orders to the letter, and when to improvise when the play breaks down.
“He’s really taken to coaching. You rein him in when you need to, but we kinda like some designated creativity,” Nichol said. “Now, it does help that him and Luke (Falk), they’re on the same page because they’ve thrown together so much.”
That easy chemistry Marks has with Falk, his quarterback, was on display all last year, and is the product of hundreds of hours spent together at practice and in the offseason, throwing and catching.
“You build that on the field, when (expletive) is going down and you keep catching those 50/50 balls,” Marks said. “We worked a lot in the summer and did stuff together. Just him knowing where I was gonna be and stuff like that, and building the confidence he has when he throws on a dime he’s not gonna worry for a split second whether you’ll be there or not, because you’ll be there. That’s what it takes to get a guy to throw you the ball.”
These are some of the tricks of the trade that Marks hopes he’ll be able to impart on the eager, young receivers WSU will have in 2016.
Becoming a leader
The Cougars go into camp this August talented but inexperienced at outside receiver. Sophomore Tavares Martin likely will assume Dom Williams’ role as the X receiver across the field from Marks, with early-enrollee freshman Isaiah Johnson and sophomore walk-on Kaleb Fossum pushing for playing time.
Nichol also said in the spring that freshmen Dezmon Patmon and Grant Porter will likely join the outside receivers this fall, so that makes it more essential than ever for Marks to help the youngsters understand the nuances of the offense.
That’s part of Marks’ personal challenge this season — to rise to the occasion and take on a leadership role that, by his own admission, doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him.
“Before, we had Dom, and I didn’t have to do any of that stuff,” Marks said. “He’s like really good at that.”
As he phrases it, Marks is more apt to “focus in on my job and not worry about everyone else” than to go around trying to motivate and mentor the younger receivers.
Instead, the 6-foot, 188-pound receiver from Venice, Calif., calls himself one of Falk’s “henchmen,” meaning he doesn’t take it upon himself to organize summer workouts, but he ensures that everyone does as Falk — the de facto leader of the team — says and shows up when they’re supposed to.
But as the Cougars head into their Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington with high expectations, Marks knows he’ll have to step out of his comfort zone and assume a leadership role on offense.
“I’ve had to take on that role a little bit,” Marks said. “I try to help the younger guys, show them how it’s done. These guys are good. They just have to learn the offense and get confidence and stuff like that.”
From that standpoint, it’s difficult to overstate the significance of Marks’ decision to return for his senior year instead of leaving early for the NFL.
After talking to the NFL’s College Advisory Committee that evaluates the draft prospects of underclassmen, and consulting with his grandfather and WSU strength coach Jason Loscalzo, Marks returned to WSU for his final year of eligibility because he says he has unfinished business on several fronts: He was a few classes shy of completing his degree in sociology, and he also wanted to help his team build on its breakthrough 9-4 season.
The surprising record of last year, and the indomitable way WSU fought to pull off late comeback victories in six games, gave this team some much-needed self-belief.
“Everyone is a little more confident this year about what they can do. Everyone is more businesslike out there,” Marks said.
Marks said he believes his team is capable of putting together a 10-win season, getting to the Pac-12 championship game and perhaps even nabbing a berth in the Rose Bowl, but before any of that can happen, he says these Cougars have to prove they can stay hungry in the aftermath of success.
“We’ve always worked. It’s just, I think we’ve gotta make sure we handle the success the right way,” Marks said. “We’ve gotta make sure we don’t lose sight of what got us to this point. We’ve got to play with that chippiness that got us to where we were last year.”