Everyone loves an underdog story, it's what makes Rocky one of the best film franchises in history, and for a franchise that embraced the Wayne Chrebet story so vehemently, it's hold a special place in our hearts.
As the NFL draft ticked down to its closing moments on Saturday, the frustration from one wide receiver was clear to see for all. With two simple tweets, the competitive nature that made Gabe Marks the Pac-12 career receptions receiver was evident.
6. On it goes— 9God (@throwitupto9) April 29, 2017
Production doesn't matter— 9God (@throwitupto9) April 29, 2017
How does a receiver who caught 316 passes for 3453 yards and 37 TD's go undrafted, when other far less productive wideouts are being picked up left, right and centre? Measurables. It all comes down to measurables. Gabe was one of the most productive receivers in college football, but he measured under 6 feet tall and didn't break the stopwatch at the combine. Pair that with the offense he played in and you start to understand why, in the way that modern talent is evaluated, he started to fall.
You see, Gabe became a star at Washington State under Mike Leach and his air-raid offense. Scouts point to that as the reason for the production spike, more opportunities to make plays. Like Gabe, that doesn't hold water with me from a receivers perspective, you may get thrown a lot of footballs, but you still need to make the plays on the ball. You can throw a bad receiver 100 footballs and a good receiver 50 footballs, and the good receiver is going to do more damage.
"Guys are trying to call us ‘system receivers’ like that’s a thing. It’s not a thing. You’ve still got to do it. It doesn’t matter the system that you are in. You’ve still got to catch the ball. Somebody has to catch the ball and score the touchdowns. If you just put some guy out there that couldn’t play, it wouldn’t work. I just get an opportunity to catch more passes — I can understand that. But I’m still getting open. So the whole ‘system receiver’ thing kind of bothers me a little bit" - Interview with the Seattle Times
As soon as the draft ended, the wait for Gabe was over. He was a New York Jet, and his skill-set perfectly complements the rumoured west coast offense that new coordinator John Morton is looking to implement. Quick off the line, quick in and out of his breaks, natural ability to create separation underneath and some elite ball tracking skills. I've seen a fair bit of tape on Marks and it's hard not to be excited about bringing him into a team where he'll have every opportunity to compete. Compete is second nature to a player who's been fighting and scraping his whole life.
Growing up in Venice California, Gabe lost his father at the age of 9 in a drive-by shooting, and wore the #9 jersey at Washington State as a tribute to him. Although he doesn't like to talk about it, his mother believes that football saved his life, gave him an avenue and an outlet.
“He doesn’t like to talk about it, but I think football saved his life,” Gersh said. “I think it was both therapy and a hobby, which turned into a passion and has turned into a career. But I think first and foremost, it was therapeutic for him.”
“It was a sport where he was able to be with his friends and able to connect with the guys in the neighborhood who knew his dad. His coaches were his dad’s friends.” - Seattle Times
He's never been the biggest player on the field, he's never been the fastest player either, however the argument could be made that he's been the most competitive player out there. After being passed up by UCLA and being asked to switch to cornerback by Oregon, Gabe made the decision to join up with Leach in Washington State. He had a firm belief that he was a wide receiver, he was born to catch footballs and score touchdowns and that's exactly what he was going to do. He didn't need everyone to believe in him, he just need a chance. Mike Leach provided him that chance, and gave him the opportunity to play in the same system as his football idol, Michael Crabtree.
“When your best player is your hardest-working player, that’s our goal. That’s what Gabe was.
“When you get him onto the field, it’s hard to get him off.” - HS Coach Angelo Gasca
After excelling as a Freshman and Sophomore, Gabe was forced to red-shirt the 2014 season. He was battling an infection which in some reports was classified as life threatening. He was also dealing with an off-field transgression where he pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree assault charge following a bar brawl. That was a mistake, but the year away from football allowed him to refocus his mind and despite not suiting up on a Saturday, Gabe was still around the football team working with the scout team, preparing Cougars the only way he knew how, competing on the practice field.
The journey to the NFL hasn't been an easy one, and there is still a long way to go for the young receiver, but through all the obstacles he's remained focused and determined.
“I kind of feel like, sadly, little things have to happen to me all the time just to make me realize I need to stay focused, I wish it didn’t have to be like that, but sadly, that’s how it is.” - Spokesman Review
Marks will come into a crowded receiver group once he lands in Florham Park. He'll join 2017 draftees Chad Hensen and ArDarius Stewart. Not to mention the existing crop of receivers like Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Eric Decker, Jalin Marsall, Charone Peake and a number of others. However if you're looking for someone who's up for the fight, you only have to look at Marks and his fiery nature both on the field and in the interview room. He's a fighter and despite his lack of physical stature, he won't be letting any of the Jets new big defensive backs push him around. Whether it's throwing his helmet at a defensive end, or throwing a shot at a cornerback in a spirited Spring practice for the Cougars, Marks likes to fight for every scrap. It could land him in trouble, it could land him a spot on the roster.
“My competitive nature gets expressed physically sometimes, I don’t know. I like to win. People don’t like to lose. We’re all grown men out there, things happen" - Spokesman Review