DESPITE COMING OFF PERHAPS THE GREATEST SEASON EVER BY A WASHINGTON STATE wide receiver, Marquess Wilson was focused on at least two things he could do to improve his game: consume more and sleep more. "After spring ball I started eating healthier," Wilson says. "A lot of chicken, vegetables, rice and oatmeal." Wilson has been blessed with a fast-acting metabolism that many people would kill for, but that makes it difficult for him to keep weight on his lithe 6' 4", 183-pound frame. And for a receiver who, as new Cougars coach Mike Leach says, "embraces going over the middle," any extra padding he can retain for the duration of a grueling season, the better. That's why he started scarfing down as many as five meals a day—and doing a little extra snoozing, for rest and for heft. "[Sleeping more] helps food sit in my stomach a little longer and break down and [makes it] easier to keep in," he says.
As for putting defensive backs to sleep, that hasn't been a problem. With his lanky frame and shifty hips, Wilson takes long, fast strides yet keeps a low center of gravity. That leads to an appearance of effortlessness that can lull defenders. Wilson established himself as one of the nation's elite receivers last season by setting Washington State records for receptions (82) and yards (1,388) while leading the Pac-12 in yards per game (115.7) and finishing second in touchdowns (12). Big plays? Try last year in October, when he beat two Colorado defensive backs by at least 10 yards on a game-winning 63-yard TD. Or against San Diego State the week before, when he took a short slant pattern 80 yards to the end zone, eluding six would-be tacklers along the way. He often catches passes one-handed. "You'll see a ball and you'll say, 'Darn, he overthrew it,' " Leach says. "But then Marquess will reach up and snatch it."
But Wilson, however popular he is in Pullman, remains largely unknown across the nation. A three-sport star (basketball, track) at Tulare Union High in California, Wilson wasn't offered many scholarships despite his exceptional athleticism (he was an all-state defensive back) and his eye-popping 22 touchdowns and 1,083 yards on just 50 catches his senior year.
Not getting the call from a top program in California, though, was fine with Wilson. He wanted to leave. "I needed to come to Washington and learn how to live by myself and take care of myself," he says. "If I were close to home, I know I'd be at home at least every weekend."
This year Wilson should expect more nationwide recognition with Leach in charge of what could be the Pac-12's most explosive passing offense. The new Cougars coaching staff has already favorably compared Wilson and quarterback Jeff Tuel with duos from its days at Texas Tech. "Jeff feels like hey, if I put the ball out there, he's going to make a play for me," outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons says. "Kind of the same [rapport] Graham [Harrell] had with [Michael] Crabtree."
Amazingly Wilson's raw talent gives him a chance to be the best receiver Leach and his staff have ever coached. "He can do it all," says Leach, who has always expected his receivers to be strong blockers. "The biggest thing is just for him to become a complete player and put a big emphasis on all the skills it takes to be a good receiver."
If Washington State makes it to a bowl game, expect Wilson to be a big reason why. If not? The same explanation may apply. The weight, one might say, is all on him.