Starks Capitalizes on Opportunity

MORGANTOWN – With each passing game, it seemed junior receiver Bradley Starks was less involved in West Virginia’s passing game.

Starks, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior field stretcher from Virginia, entered Saturday’s game without a catch on the season, and as the only projected starter from the spring prospectus to not keep his job for the opener against Coastal Carolina.

That, of course, was mainly because of an injury – this time a hip flexor, but he’s had many in his Mountaineers career.

West Virginia’s new-look offense, headed by big-armed sophomore Geno Smith, has leveled a bit, with the passing game now emphatically raising its hand during role call.

On the season’s cumulative stat sheet, Starks’ name was absent. A big nothing. He was basically known as the guy who lost a fumble and underthrew a wide open receiver on a trick play in a 2008 disaster at Colorado in 2008.

And then, Saturday happened. Starks caught four passes for 100 yards, including touchdowns of 38, 48, and 4 yards in the game’s first 37 minutes, matching his career number of touchdown receptions. In fact, he became the first receiver since Cedrick Thomas to catch three TD passes in 1977. Herbert Barna also had three in a game in 1936.

Word leaked, despite head coach Bill Stewart hoping it wouldn’t, that Starks was healthy and was going to have a chapter in the playbook heading into Saturday’s game against UNLV.

But who saw all of that coming?

“I knew I’d at least have the opportunity to do it,” Starks said, “but doing it and having the opportunity is two different things. So it was good that I capitalized on it.”

Though injuries and disappointment, Starks never let himself think about being the forgotten man.

“I just knew that it wasn’t my time,” Starks said “Tavon (Austin) and Jock (Sanders), and the offense in general was moving well. Whichever way it goes, we just have to roll with it. Whatever’s helping us at the end of the day is what matters the most.”

Still, you have to figure if this WVU offense is ever going to reach its full potential, Starks will have to reach his as well.

Stewart, who personally recruited Starks, says he’s the fastest player on the team. In high school, he was the quarterback, he was an all-state basketball player, and a state qualifier in the high jump.

In other words, he’s a pure athlete.

But one injury or another has always kept Starks from being the player many thought he should be.

“Definitely frustrating,” Starks said. “I worked hard during the summer to get ready for camp. I go out in camp and work my tail off and an injury happens, I get a setback. I just have to stay focused and stay the course.”

Perhaps that’s why so many were happy to see Starks do his thing against UNLV.

“He’s been in the red and the green (practice jerseys for non-contact) for God knows how long,” Stewart said. “Now he’s out of it, and he looked pretty fluid to me (Saturday). I was really tickled for him.”

So the secret’s out. There’s now a book on Starks. It’s called West Virginia’s new offensive game plan.

“I think I can stretch the field. If the ball’s in the air, I think I can go get it against anybody,” Starks said. “I just feel like I just add more confusion for a defensive coordinator.

“I think I just have to continue to do what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks. Working on fundamentals, and staying after practice catching balls and running routs. It’s the little things that count the most.”