As I’ve gotten older, I’ve always felt weird whenever I develop a connection with an athlete, be it collegiate or professional. That person doesn’t know me and I shouldn’t like (or dislike, for that matter) someone that I have never met so strongly.
It’s the ability to relate to sports stars that makes the connection stronger. No one feels that way about Gwyneth Paltrow when she writes about the difficulties of finding fair trade organic sweet corn in the early spring. No, you feel more connected to a guy like Richard Sherman because, man, if you’d just been one step quicker or shaved a tenth off your shuttle time, that could’ve been you too. Maybe. Probably not in his case but you get my drift.
There’s another element to being relatable though and that’s an athlete’s growth as a person. We all want to grow and develop as people. Rarely do we get genuine looks inside who an athlete is but when we do, it’s usually very rewarding.
Gabe Marks did something not a lot of people in his position would normally do after already playing two seasons of college football: he took a redshirt year.
Not that he had much of a choice, mind you. After a run in with police in February of 2014, just one month later, the coaches told him he’d be redshirting the next season but it wasn’t because of that trip up. From Stefanie Loh’s excellent profile on him from last year, the redshirt was because of an injury but coaches weren’t specific. Though we may never know the exact diagnosis, the words “life-threatening serious” are scary enough.
Once you get to the collegiate level, most people have a high enough motor to never sit on their laurels. But regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, a redshirt season in the middle of your career would be difficult to get through without some struggles, be they mental or physical.
Throughout what turned into a very disappointing 2014 season, there was one constant bright spot in mid-week practice reports: Gabe Marks.
Need someone to simulate a running quarterback? Gabe Marks. Need someone to keep the intensity up? Gabe Marks.
When Marks got back on the field in 2015, he returned to being the receiver we’d known in 2013 but better. A man who needed the minutest of space to catch a pass, who could make defensive backs shake their heads in frustration, who could make a difficult position to play look easy.
Like everyone though, Marks is human. We don’t like it when our accomplishments go unnoticed and we don’t like it when people who don’t deserve the recognition before us get it anyway. Throw It Up To 9 let ‘em know though near the end of the 2015 season. I could see the chip on his shoulder from my apartment in Greenwood.
WSU would go on to lose the Apple Cup but after their first bowl win in over a decade, we all wondered whether Marks would leave for the NFL Draft. Marks certainly has the pedigree to play professionally and I’m not one to poo-poo leaving early in football, especially if your draft position will get no better combined with the limited time pros usually get. So would Gabe make the leap?
We probably never should’ve doubted it.
Marks has spent 2016 being himself on the field but blossoming off of it, turning himself into a mini-Mike Leach at the mic, coughing included. Honesty is not a problem for Marks, and when one of his teammates faced a situation unlike anything we’ve seen at Washington State, he wasn’t afraid to speak up.
I’ve spent over 400 words just talking about Marks without telling you why he’s the most important person vs. Washington. But the answer lies in the above tweet: “I also remember the #1 goal I had when committing to WSU and that was to get the Cougars back to a Rose Bowl.”
Marks committed to the Cougs in 2012, right after Mike Leach’s hiring and after four truly disastrous seasons in Pullman. Knowing the challenges, knowing what it would take to get WSU to Pasadena, he decided to come to the Palouse anyway. There might be no one who deserves the chance to fight for Pasadena more than him.
Friday, a win gives the Cougs that chance. Sure, they need to win one more game but on his final game in Martin Stadium, Marks can get close enough to see that goal. That’s not to say no one else on the team shares his desire, but for a guy who came here so long before it was even remotely attainable, this could be a special senior night.
Gabe Marks is a guy I’ve come to admire an awful lot. He’s smart, articulate; he’s got that moxie I love and he’s one hell of a football player. He sticks up for his teammates while he also pushes them to be better every day. I’ve been sad to see a lot of athletes leave Washington State but probably none more so than Marks. Watching his transformation over the past couple of years has been a privilege and, for what it’s worth to Gabe, I’m going to miss him.
In Loh’s piece on Marks, his mom describes finding out that he would have to spend the 2014 season on the sidelines. And it practically breaks your heart.
“He thought everybody was going to forget about him.”
I don’t think that will be a problem, Gabe.
Thank you, 9. For everything.
Gabe Marks, your most important person against Washington.