PULLMAN – There are a few different tactics you can use, Gabe Marks explains, though he typically opts for the standard finger-roll.
It’s his go-to celebration in practice. The Washington State receiver has made a habit of dominating 1-on-1 sessions against WSU’s defensive backs, often leaping over them for highlight-reel grabs or running past them to snag passes on vertical routes.
After the play ends, Marks might take a couple steps as if approaching a basket for a layup, then flick the ball several feet into the air to finish the move.
“I used to like Mario Manningham a lot when he played for the Giants,” Marks explained, “and he used to flick it up. He used to switch it up from time to time, he’d throw a little dance in there, throw a little flick in there, there’s a lot of stuff you can do with it. You can dunk it. You can dunk on somebody. You can flick it.”
Dunk on somebody? Wouldn’t that be a penalty?
“I did it once in an all-star game,” Marks said. “They let it go.”
And then, counsel from outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons, with whom Marks shares many a playful jab before and after these spring practices.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Simmons warned, half-jokingly.
For all of Marks’ brash showmanship, it’s his work ethic that has earned the sophomore a “soft spot in my heart,” Simmons says.
It’s shown up this spring, as Marks looks much like the player he was during last year’s preseason camp. And that player was good enough to start at outside receiver as a true freshman.
Marks caught 49 passes for 560 yards last season – Brett Bartolone was the only WSU player with more catches who wasn’t named Marquess Wilson, and Wilson was the only player with more yards – but his passion is for improving.
“That kid wants to work hard and he wants to be good. I respect that,” Simmons said. “He’s always coming in and trying to find out, ‘what can I do better?’ and he’s always coming in when he sees something that is not done right – ‘hey I did this, I know you’re going to fuss about it, so let’s sit down and go over how to get it corrected.’ You’ve got to love kids like that.”
So when Marks is asked if he thinks 2013 could be his year, his time to prove he’s taken the next step as a receiver, he responds that “it better be.”
But only because of all the work he’s put in during the offseason “when nobody was around,” he says. He and WSU’s quarterbacks throw on off-days in an attempt to perfect routes. Extra film sessions are commonplace, too.
Knowledge of the little things –when to sit in holes on certain routes, for example – has improved.
“I feel like the quarterbacks are more comfortable (with me) this year,” Marks said. “They’re throwing me a lot more balls at practice and 7-on-7 and stuff. As long as I catch the ball, I feel like I’ll have a really good year this year.”
Simmons would like to see him catch the ball with his hands more frequently, instead of allowing it to come into his body first. As a freshman, Marks learned the hard way a couple of times – via jarring hits from defensive backs – that he couldn’t get away with that in college.
Otherwise, though, Simmons said “if you tell him something, he literally goes out and tries to work on it and improve it, and every day it’s, ‘OK, I’m going to make sure I keep a low pad level today in practice.’ He’ll come out and that’s his focus for that day and he’s going to perfect that. The other day it was, ‘I’m going to be more physical and use my hands,’ and he came out and perfected that.”
All of which has allowed him to perfect the layup celebration. Just no dunking. Not yet, anyway.
“Maybe in practice,” Marks said. “Spring game.”
Henry Eaddy, a third-year sophomore receiver, is no longer on WSU’s roster and has left the program.