PULLMAN – The freshman brushed flecks of sand away from his body, a reminder of the workout he’d been given in Washington State’s new sand pit on the west end of Rogers Field after Friday’s second practice of preseason camp.
Gabriel Marks needed to be reminded after Friday’s practice that ball security is paramount, so outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons stood by as the newcomer rolled over and over in the sand.
And that was just about the only way that Marks looked like a freshman during Friday’s practice.
“He carries himself a little bit more mature than his years,” Simmons said.
Evidence: Marks, who was rated a 4-star recruit by Scout.com, made several appearances at outside receiver during Friday’s team session, a rarity for a true freshman in just his second official practice of his collegiate career.
He didn’t just line up and run routes, either. Marks made perhaps the play of the day when he streaked down the middle of the field and hauled in a touchdown pass of about 45 yards from Connor Halliday, pulling the ball in and away from first-string safety Deone Bucannon and starting cornerback Damante Horton.
Even coach Mike Leach, who has been understandably reserved in his evaluation of newcomers thus far, noted the significance of Marks’ effort on Friday.
“He’s got sharp, efficient skills,” Leach said, adding that the freshmen who adjust the quickest are the ones who wind up playing. “He’s got talent on top of it, no question, but he’s one of those guys that plays older than he is. We just have to keep seeing what he can do. He even looked good in team (session) today, which is kind of a drill that a guy his age doesn’t always get in, in the second practice.”
“If he’s able to duplicate that once we get the pads on, I don’t see why he shouldn’t get an opportunity to play this fall,” Simmons said.
Marks has been lining up on the outside after many speculated that he’d play in the slot. Not that it matters much to him.
“They just want me to come work hard and be part of the team first,” Marks said. “I can play both really well. I was going to play slot, but they moved me outside when I got here.”
And nothing has been finalized yet, either. As Simmons pointed out, coaches simply want to find their eight best receivers and place them on the field accordingly.
“We thought on the initial game plan that he would come in and challenge on the inside and be able to compete and that would be the earliest way to get on the field,” Simmons said. “But with some things that have come into play as of late, he’s had a chance to work out on the outside and he’s done well.”
Marks, a Venice High School graduate from Los Angeles, was originally committed to play for coach June Jones at Southern Methodist.
Leach’s arrival in Pullman piqued his interest.
“I grew up watching Texas Tech on TV,” said Marks, who also received attention from UCLA, Colorado, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. “And the Pac-12 is one of the biggest stages you can play on. So if you’re going to do it, why not do it here?”
Marks also works out with the rest of the newcomers to gain more reps after the main practice has ended. Leach does this so his freshmen can gain a better understanding of the plays and where they’re supposed to be on the field, though Leach said for the second consecutive day that he’s been impressed by how well the newcomers are already able to run the team’s plays.
But Marks has been doing it with juniors and seniors, too.
“He came in the summer with the determination – ‘Hey, I’m going to play this fall,’ and has done the steps to put himself in that position,” Simmons said.
Notes: Defensive back Raymond Ford, a Los Angeles native who originally signed with California, is in Pullman and will join the WSU team, Leach said. … Incoming freshman Alex Jackson, who was not present for the first two days of practice, is scheduled to arrive in Pullman this afternoon and should join the team then, Simmons said. Travel issues prevented his arrival until now. … Offensive lineman Wade Jacobson wasn’t at Friday’s practice. No reason was given, as Leach does not discuss injuries.