From the moment Gabe Marks stepped on campus, he was a "no-doubter." I only saw a few of these players up close -- Marquess Wilson and Deone Bucannon immediately spring to mind. They're kids that come in as freshmen and immediately make you think they'll not only play right away, but have a significant impact during their time on campus.
There's an adjustment period for freshmen, many of whom go from being the best player in their city, state, sometimes region of the country. They step onto campus as The Man, then have to go through a humbling process as they adjust to the size of college players and the speed of the game.
Except that didn't really happen with Marks. He walked onto the practice field as a 4-star recruit and gem of the class, and spent every rep letting anyone in earshot know what time it was. Practices quickly became The Gabe Marks Show.
The thing about Marks is that off the field he typically speaks softly. You have to lean in to hear him, even as he's not-so-gently reminding opponents that they better respect the Cougs. That changes on the field, though, both in practice and in games.
You've heard the "practice like you play" cliche, and may have even rolled your eyes at it. But part of what makes Marks so good is the fact that he actually does practice like every rep is part of a game. Not just how he runs and catches and finishes a play in practice, either. Marks spends his practices reminding whoever lines up across from him that they can't even come close to guarding him.
Imagine following Marks around for a couple hours each day as he mercilessly insults you. You're going to have to keep up, too, and he's going to let you know every time you can't. And if he catches a pass over you? Might as well pack it up and try again tomorrow.
Even as a freshman, Marks was one of the most vocal players on the field. Everything was a competition, and he wasn't going to lose whether it was against a scout teamer or a first team All Pac-12 corner. His plan from the start was to roast defensive backs and make sure, verbally, that they understood he was roasting them.*
*A quick example: One day during fall camp, early in his freshman year but after he was already starting to turn heads, Marks broke free and caught a deep touchdown pass in front of a few assembled media members. He ran up and held the ball out, saying "There it is! That's what y'all want?"
At one point early in the Cal game this season, the sideline reporter chimed in to relay a conversation between Marks and quarterback Luke Falk on the sideline. Marks came up to Falk after a drive and said something to the effect of "the DB on my side is trash. Throw me the ball." (edit: Jessamyn McIntyre, the excellent WSU sideline reporter, said Marks was almost polite about it, saying "I'm gonna beat him every time...he's just not that good.") As a freshman in fall camp he was confident yet unproven. Now, as a redshirt junior, he knows he can line up against anyone and win. He's done it plenty.
None of this was easy, either. Despite being the best receiver on the roster, Marks took a redshirt last season -- a surprising mid-career redshirt due to a serious illness in the offseason. With it, he disappeared. Out of sight, almost out of mind.
But even as he sat, Marks continued to be as competitive as ever. There were no games, so he spent his weeks lighting up the first-team defense -- sometimes as a scout team quarterback, but mostly at receiver. He talked the whole time, too, just like he always does. And just when he'd slip far enough out of mind, a video would pop up showing him doing making a ridiculous catch to remind you Marks was still around, and would step right back in after a year off to reintroduce himself.
We probably have three more games to enjoy Marks in a Cougar uniform, and Saturday night should be the last time he takes the field at Martin Stadium. He's put everything he needs to on tape and it's time to go get paid in the NFL. So my suggestion is this: Watch Marks go to work over the last two weeks of the regular season and the bowl game. One of the most enjoyable things I find myself doing during a game is just focusing on Marks as he battles against a cornerback.
What you'll see is one of the most fiery players to put on a Cougar uniform, a man who knows he can line up and whip whoever is in front of him. More often than not, he does just that, too.
And then he'll let em know.