Lucas at Large: Starks back on campus to finish what he started

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FB_110916_Starks_Scott.jpegWhen Scott Starks left Wisconsin, he wasn't sure if he'd ever return to get his degree.

"I really didn't know,'' said the former All-Big Ten cornerback. "I really didn't think about it.''

That's because Starks was chasing his dream to play in the National Football League.

In the 2005 draft, he was a third-round selection (87th overall) of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Kind of my whole mindset, to be honest, was to make it to the League,'' he said.

It's not like he didn't embrace being a student-athlete.

"I still wanted to get a good education while I was here,'' he said.

But when he left school, he left -- dropping classes the second semester of his senior year.

Looking back on that decision now, Starks said, "My whole mindset was wrong.''

Six years later, Starks has come back to the UW to finish what he started.

"Now that I'm back in school, my mindset is right,'' said the 27-year-old Starks, a St. Louis native. "School is almost easier (this time around) or I'm just more interested.''

Starks is taking 17 credits this semester. He will need one more class in the spring for his degree.

If he could do it all over again, would Starks have dropped out of school when he did in '05?

"I would not have,'' he said. "That's one of the reasons why I came back -- to have an influence on these younger guys and help them make some better decisions than I made.

"Not that I made a terrible decision; but I could have made a much better one.''

The NCAA is now in the process of encouraging former athletes, like Starks, to come back for their degrees by creating opportunities for them to coach and go to school.

Less than two weeks ago, Starks began working with the Badgers as a volunteer student assistant; much to the delight of UW coach Bret Bielema, who sees the value in having Starks around.

"While he's finishing his degree,'' Bielema said, "he's got all the same rights and privileges as a graduate assistant so that he can work on the field and in the office.

"Obviously, a guy who has just played five years in the (NFL) is a good example for our kids.''

In each of his first three seasons with Jacksonville, Starks played in every game, starting once. In addition to excelling on special teams, he also served as the Jaguars' nickel back.

Going into his fourth season, he tore a pectoral muscle during training camp which put him on the sidelines for two games. In late September, he returned to play against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I was on special teams,'' Starks recalled, "and I was just running straight ahead -- I really didn't do anything -- when my knee buckled on the turf.''

Starks blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and went on injured reserve.

Over the next two seasons, he played in only a handful of games before being released.

"I was not the same player,'' he admitted. "The ACL injury put a damper on my career.''

Starks had a few nibbles to keep playing but nothing of substance.

"I just made the decision to move on,'' he said. "I wanted to get my degree and I wanted to get into coaching. I talked to coach B (Bielema) and he told me I could help out here and get my feet wet.

"Everyone has welcomed and accepted me. I can get some things on my resume and get my degree at the same time. As a coach, I'm learning the ropes and gaining experience.''

He's also sharing his experience with the UW cornerbacks.

"His first couple of years here were a little bumpy,'' Bielema said of Starks, who was forced to start as a true freshman, "and he can help guys through their own trials and tribulations.

"I love Sparky. He was a key player when I first came in (as defensive coordinator). He was a guy I knew I'd have to win over if I was going to have respect on the defensive side of the ball.

"It's funny because whenever we'd break the defensive huddle, Sparky would always hang on to my hand for an extra three or four seconds; it was like something out of Hoosiers.''

Bielema, fittingly, extended a hand to Sparks to come back on campus. "Hopefully,'' Bielema said, "if everything works out, he'll be my graduate assistant next fall.''

Starks has the potential to be a pretty good role model; especially for someone like Marcus Cromartie, who will be making his first career start Saturday against Northern Illinois.

What would he tell him?

"Just do what you've been taught,'' Starks said. "The coaches have put together a great game plan. All he has to do his play his techniques, relax and just play ball.

"It's the same game that he's been playing since he was 7 or 8. It's still football.''

Starks has been especially impressed with cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

"He has grown a lot since I've been here,'' he said. "He's playing bigger than his size. With his techniques, he's really working his craft.''

The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Starks relied primarily on his speed.

"He's more of a technician,'' he said of Fenelus. "He definitely has some things to work on but from what I've seen, if he continues to improve at this rate, he can definitely play (in the NFL).''

Starks will forever be remembered for one play.

In 2004, the Purdue Boilermakers were 2 minutes and 49 seconds and one first down away from sealing a 17-14 victory over the Badgers in a Big Ten showdown.

On third-and-2 from the 37-yard line, Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton ran a bootleg.

Starks and UW safety Robert Brooks sandwiched Orton, the ball came out and Starks scooped and scored -- sprinting 40 yards with the fumble recovery for a dramatic game-winning touchdown.

"To be honest,'' Starks said, "I still bump into people who bring that play up to me. I would have never thought that would be a play that so many people would remember.''

They still haven't forgotten -- or forgiven -- in West Lafayette.

2 Comments

Congratulations on going back to get your degree, Scott, and even though it may be surprising to you, the Orton play is one of the most memorable for me in all my years of watching a Badger fan!

Thats a Stand up Guy right there. Proud of you Starks

ON WISCONSIN