PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — After Washington State’s Gabe Marks caught the touchdown pass that made him the leading receiver in the history of the Pacific-12 Conference, the referees yelled at him to return the football.
“No, it’s my ball,” he told the refs, in a move that surprised no one who knows the fiery receiver.
If quarterback Luke Falk is the field general of the Air Raid offense, Marks is the emotional and intellectual voice of the No. 23 Cougars.
It was little surprise that the 295th reception of Marks’ stellar career, breaking the Pac-12 mark of 294 set by Nelson Spruce of Colorado, was a touchdown in Washington State’s 56-21 rout of California on Nov. 12.
The touchdown “works out better as a story,” Marks said after the game.
“I wasn’t feeling all blushy and stuff, all romantic or anything,” Marks said when asked how he felt about the Pac-12 receptions record. “It was cool. I appreciated the cheers from the fans and everything and the acknowledgement for it.”
The senior caught six more passes in Washington State’s loss to No. 9 Colorado last Saturday, bringing his career total to 301. He is just the 13th receiver in FBS history, and the only one from the Pac-12, with more than 300 catches. His 3,314 yards are ninth-most in league history.
Marks is sure to be a prime target when the Cougars host rival No. 6 Washington on Friday in the annual Apple Cup, with the winner claiming the Pac-12 North title and a shot at the Rose Bowl.
While some athletes downplay the pursuit of records, Marks said chasing the Pac-12 receptions standard gave him an extra spark.
“I used that energy to make plays,” Marks said. “It doesn’t make me nervous or anything.”
Offensive lineman Cole Madison noted Marks brings extra energy to the team and will call out players who aren’t putting out the required effort.
“Gabe Marks is a real football player,” Madison said.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Marks grew up in Venice, California, where he was a star player despite his modest size. He was 9 years old when his father was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in 2004.
When Leach was hired to rebuild the woeful Washington State program after the 2011 season, one of the first scholarships he offered was to Marks.
“Mike Leach is really cool,” Marks said. “I committed before I even took a visit.”
“It’s been a long time coming and it is a great team award,” Leach said of the receiving record, noting the quarterbacks, blockers and other receivers involved in plays where Marks caught passes. “He is a great representative. He’s very competitive, hangs in there, battles away.”
Marks played immediately, catching 49 passes for 560 yards as a freshman. He caught 74 passes for 807 yards as a sophomore.
But entering his junior year, he was behind Isiah Myers on the depth chart. He also suffered from health problems, and the decision was made to redshirt.
He chafed at times, but the decision was for the best, Marks said.
Marks had a breakout season last year, watching 104 passes for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns as Washington posted a 9-4 record. He was an All-Pac-12 selection.
Asked to identify the key components of the Cougars, Marks riffed on an improved running game, positive chemistry and the defense’s ability to generate turnovers. He also noted the play of quarterback Luke Falk, who Marks tabbed earlier as “the Messiah.”
“Everything is going according to plan,” Marks said. “What’s not to like?”
Marks and Leach have been known to jaw at each other on the sidelines, but they have a mutual respect.
“We talk about a lot of things,” Marks said.
“He’s a brilliant guy,” Leach said. “He thinks independently. He would actually be a pretty good coach someday.”
Marks had a few games left in his college career, and he wants to make the most of them.
“It’s about just winning games now,” Marks said. “I’ve kind of done everything that I can do in my reach.”
He was asked how it felt to be tied for first place in the Pac-12 North.
“It’s better than sitting in last place in mid-November with nothing to play for,” Marks said. “That would suck.”