The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 11, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Starks faces, overcomes adversity

MORGANTOWN — There has been a whole lot of drooling in these parts about the receivers Geno Smith has to throw to in Coach Dana Holgorsen’s MountainAir Offense, Stedman Bailey racking up 100-plus every time he laces on his shoes, Tavon Austin scaring the bejesus out of defensive backs every time he puts a football in his hands and Ivan McCartney flashing past a corner on a post pattern that he runs as if he invented it.

There is even Ryan Nehlen, who actually had McCartney beat out for the job until he suffered a concussion, and surehanded Tyler Urban, a capable tight end in an offense that doesn’t have a tight end.

But it just could be that there’s an overlooked and underutilized receiver who may just be as good or better than any of them, certainly as dangerous a weapon with his size, speed, agility and leaping ability as any coach could ask for.

He’s been around here for a while and now that they have opened the jailhouse door and stopped abusing him so that he could abuse defense, Bradley Starks may just give them the playmaker that can’t be covered if they are to assign their best to these other receivers.

For most of the preseason, when he was recovering from shoulder problems, and early in the season, Starks was standing in the corner, sort of whipping boy for the coaches, maybe even someone they could make an example of to get through to the younger players.

He was, after all, a senior, so didn’t fit into future plans, and is, to be honest, something of his own person, which means it takes some getting to know him by a coach before he can actually appreciate what he has.

Holgorsen surely hadn’t gotten through to him earlier in the year. In fact, he was reluctant to even answer questions about him through camp and into the opening two weeks of the season. During a Sept. 13 press conference he was asked about the one-time quarterback and high school basketball star and replied:

“He’s getting better. I didn’t want to talk about him a month ago, but based on the last three weeks of him practicing hard, he’s on track to get better and better. He’s sitting at third team, but if he has a good week of practice, he may go to the second team.”

It was hardly a ringing endorsement, but it did show that Holgorsen was getting a message from Starks and that maybe Starks had gotten a message from Holgorsen, but he was hardly a go-to guy. He caught a pass against Marshall, another against Norfolk State, this one somewhat special in that it covered 30 yards and was for a touchdown,  but any joy that came from that was erased Maryland week when he didn’t play.

In need of someone to make plays against LSU, Starks saw more action and responded with three catches, then added a sort of nothing 6-yard catch against Bowling Green.

All the while, the coaches were working on him. Daron Roberts is his position coach and he admits that it has been a project.

“We’ve had conversations with him and said ‘Look it’s all about trust with us. We can’t put you into a critical situation until we feel we can trust you,’” Roberts recalled.

“To his credit, we were really hard on him because we felt he was an upperclassman who could take it. To his credit, he withstood lot of criticism and hard coaching and he’s really done well for us. He’s going to continue to get chances to play in the game.”

It takes a strong person to be singled out by a coaching staff to be made an example of and rather than quit to work harder and win back their trust so that they can have faith in you.

“It’s staying positive and keep going on,” Starks said this past week after the UConn game in which he made a spectacular diving grab of 22-yard touchdown pass from Geno Smith. “Even when times are tough and things don’t go your way, you have to push through it and each day will get better.”

There had to be moments, though, times when your career seems to be going down the drain and the coaches are finding nothing right and everything wrong with you play, when discouragement settles in and you think of maybe going back to basketball.

“No, I just kept working hard. I’ve never been a person to give up on anything or pack it in when times get tough,” he said.

And you better believe times did get tough for Starks, not playing and being on the wrong side of the coaching staff. Did they ever really get to him?

“Things got tough for me,” he admitted. “It was just me personally, how hard I am on myself. I can’t even answer, that’s how tough it was. But as hard as they were on me, I was harder on myself.”

He would talk with family and with friends, get inspiration there, along with some positive vibes.

“And my teammates were there with me at all times,” he said.

In a way, he understood.

“I guess you could say I’m used to adversity,” he said.

Now they know they can count on him and he knows that his skills are being appreciated, too.

And they are such skills that he has managed to turn 72 pass receptions in 10 touchdowns, a ridiculous rate. But another way, he has a TD catch for every 7 receptions, Austin has a TD catch for every 9 catches.

“It’s just money ball. I got to go get it,” Starks said of the scores.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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