West Virginia's Starks looks to take leap

In my conversation with Bill Stewart last week, the West Virginia coach said that receiver Bradley Starks needs to have "a breakout year."

Starks saw that quote, and he's taking on the responsibility of living up to it.

"I definitely agree," he said. "I need to step up and have a solid, good year."

Starks and Jock Sanders are the only starting receivers who return for the Mountaineers. Sanders is the slot guy who usually does his thing with short throws over the middle. With Alric Arnett and Wes Lyons gone, Starks needs to be the main deep threat on the outside.

"I've got to step up, come to practice every day and work on being that," Starks said.

The third-year junior has shown signs of becoming a top-flight receiver. He had a 55-yard catch against East Carolina, a 58-yarder at Auburn and a 48-yard touchdown against Colorado last season. Still he only caught more than three passes in a game twice and never had more than five receptions. He scored only one other touchdown besides that Colorado game. He's also recovering from shoulder surgery and an ankle sprain.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is still relatively new at the position. He was an all-state quarterback in Virginia in high school who moved to receiver once he got to West Virginia.

"I'm still learning each and every game," he said. "There's a new task for me, something new every game. I've been working on my route running, especially my route running when I'm tired. Just the basic fundamentals of the position."

Starks has also pulled double duty the past couple of years, serving as the team's emergency quarterback. That means he has spent time taking reps under center, time that could have been devoted toward more receiving knowledge. With projected starter Geno Smith recovering from a foot injury and no scholarship quarterbacks behind backup Coley White, Starks may have to pinch hit there again this spring.

"If the coaches need me there, I'll do it," he said. "Otherwise, I'll just continue to work and get better as a wide receiver."

West Virginia hopes he'll progress toward having a breakout season in 2010.