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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Starks sparking UW fire

Here’s a brief sampling of some of the things that I’ve written about Scott Starks since becoming editor of the Herald Sports Page:

In the secondary portion of the Herald’s preseason position-by-position preview, I wrote (mainly referring to Starks): “For all the talent and experience, the secondary won’t get much credit from anyone until it stops getting torched so often.”

In a preview before the Badgers’ game against Central Florida, I wrote (along the same lines), “This would be a great game for the … occasionally competent Badger secondary to establish itself … If Moffett throws for more than 100 yards (for the first time since high school), the UW secondary should feel like it got lit up.”


And — perhaps the most egregious of my critiques — after the Badgers’ impressive victory over the Golden Knights in week one, I wrote, “Instead of showing he can shut down anyone, Starks was singled out by the Golden Knight offense and looked like was having trouble even keeping up for most of the game.”

That’s what I’ve written … what’s floated through my mind about the senior cornerback has — at times in the past four years — been much more unprintable (think Akron, Penn State, Purdue, 1,162 yards allowed and me screaming obscenities).

So, let me — always the quickest to criticize — this time be the first to give due praise: Sparky has risen to every challenge he’s been presented with this season. He hasn’t just been one of the best players on the Badgers this season; he has, hands down, been the most important, most impressive, most extraordinary cog in the nation’s top defensive machine.

Yes, Erasmus James has been dominant and no one has come close to being able to block him (legally) all year. Yes, Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson haven’t let a tailback come up the middle unpunished all year. Yes, Jimmy Leonhard is one of the best defensive players to ever come through Wisconsin, and has played to that standard all year.

But for all of their contributions, James, Hawthorne, Jefferson and Leonhard haven’t played nearly the part that Starks has on this team. As the tests have gotten tougher, Starks has gotten tougher. He has been the Badger that steps up and makes big plays in big situations — the Badger that shuts down big-time players in big-time games.

“Starks is just so strong,” defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said of his senior star after the Purdue game. “He’s so strong as a person, as an individual and, obviously, as a football player. You just know that, as he perseveres through games, some good things are going to happen for him.”

Bielema’s words are right on the mark.


As the defensive line showed against Purdue, James, Hawthorne and Jefferson certainly are important. But, even with ‘Raz out of the game and ‘Taj and JJ limping, UW stuck out a victory.

Why? Because Sparky made the biggest play of the season for the Badgers and stole the game from the Boilers.

Leonhard’s importance can never be underemphasized; he’s UW’s leader, its playmaker and its defensive backstop. But the senior, undeniably, hasn’t quite made the noticeable contributions in 2004 that he did in previous seasons.

Why? Because when a team doesn’t let opposing receivers make catches, the ball tends not to get to its safeties too often.

But what is most impressive about what Starks has done is the competition he’s done what he’s done against.

“He’s out there every week playing on some of the best receivers around and he’s just beating them,” Bielema said.

The top receivers from the Badgers’ first seven opponents (including Purdue’s Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State’s Santonio Holmes and UNLV’s Earvin Johnson — three of the nation’s top receivers) have averaged 77.5 yards per game in games that they haven’t faced Starks; in games that they have faced him they’ve averaged 35.4.

That’s a difference of over 40 yards per game.

“You know there are going to be good players,” Starks said after facing Holmes. “I’d definitely say that [Holmes] is a good player. He’ll be a great player in the future.”

“All week I wanted to be the one on him,” he added.

That determination and desire has shown. In the past two games — as pressure has mounted and opposing receivers have become better and more dangerous — Starks’ domination is even more noticeable. Holmes and Stubblefield, who average 97.2 and 113.6 yards per game respectively, when not facing the Badgers, averaged 37 yards against UW. That drop-off is more than 65 yards apiece.

And that was with Starks playing through a nagging and painful shoulder injury.

“My shoulder was killing,” Starks said. “Adrenaline will cover all of that, though. You can’t feel the pain until you step off the field.”

I’d say UW’s opponents have been feeling the pain just as vividly while Starks is on the field as he does when he’s off it. And if he’s convinced me, there can’t be many skeptics left.

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