Lark preparing for possible start

James Lark was a four-star quarterback out of Pine View High School and was offered a full-ride scholarship by BYU. However, his career as a starting college quarterback never materialized. As the Cougars prepare for this Saturday's contest against New Mexico State, Lark just might get one last chance to be named BYU's starting gunslinger.

For a highly touted high school quarterback, waiting in the wings for an opportunity is never an easy thing. For whatever reasons, James Lark was passed over in favor of other quarterbacks throughout his career at BYU.

"You know, he's been just a great role model," said Braden Hansen about Lark. "Being a backup quarterback can [lead to] a bad attitude, but James Lark's had a great attitude forever, and so I think guys are happy and supportive."

Lark has received some opportunities to play from time to time, but not often. After Riley Nelson got hurt in last week's San Jose State game, Lark was preparing for the opportunity to go in.

"Yeah, they started having me warm up," said Lark. "I think you saw on TV how Riley came off the field in pain after that last touchdown. I started to warm up, then we got that onside kick and he ran back in, so he finished it out."

How close was Lark to actually going in?

"That's not really my call, so I don't know," Lark said. "If Riley couldn't have gone, I would have finished it out."

"Riley was hurt, yeah," said Coach Doman. "Anybody who watched it on TV saw that he was hurt. Now it's just a matter of how bad, and all that stuff being evaluated right now."

So who has the final say on what quarterback plays? There is a process that starts with an evaluation by head trainer Jeff Hurst and the willingness of the injured player to return to the field.

That's not up to me," said Lark with a smile. "If that was up to me, I would have called it.

"Riley, he's probably the toughest kid I've ever seen on the football field. That kid will go in with a broken back, hurt or whatever it is, and he's in there playing and not going out. He's one of the toughest I've known. I'm impressed by him."

Ultimately, any decision for Nelson to return to the field rests upon the final say of Coach Mendenhall and not Coach Doman, but why?

"Well, that's a question for the head coach," said Doman with a smile. "You'll have to ask him that question. He ultimately makes the decision who gets to play quarterback. We have great confidence in Riley and have chosen to play Riley, and in that case James has been absolutely faithful. If he gets his chance on Saturday, he'll have deserved it."

Cougar fans would agree wholeheartedly with Coach Doman. It's hard to imagine that a healthy Lark isn't as capable as an injured Nelson. Sure, the offense will have to be curtailed to Larks' strengths, but that isn't anything special that Coach Doman couldn't do.

"We run the BYU offense and it's the same," said Lark. "The coaches will call the plays that I'm most comfortable with, that I've run over the years a little bit better than others. Riley likes some plays better and I like some plays better, so they'll probably tailor that for me in practice throughout the week. But it's the same offense."

So due to Nelson's recent injury, Lark has been taking first-team reps this week.

"I got all the reps with the first team and it felt great," said Lark on Monday. "It was a lot of fun. I've been waiting for this for a while to go out there and sling it around in practice, but it felt good and everyone came out ready to play. We're not dwelling on the loss we just had. Guys came out and worked hard."

Apparently Lark did well, and it was like hopping on and riding an old bike again.

"I haven't taken team reps in a while, but, I mean, it's football and I've been around it and doing it a long time," said Lark. "I felt confident and I felt good. There are some throws that I haven't done in a while. It just took some extra practice but I feel great."

"Practice went good," said Coach Doman. "James practiced and Riley didn't practice and I think it was a good opportunity for James to go out and get a lot of reps. He hasn't had that chance this year. He looked good out there. If James plays, we'll suit it to what he can do. Gosh, he's been around for a long time. He's been five years in the making and I think he'll do fine if he plays."

The plan right now is to allow Lark to get as many reps as he possibly can in preparation for the New Mexico State Aggies. There is a good chance he could be named the starting quarterback, but that decision will come later in the week.

"Well, yeah, he took every rep out on the practice field for a Monday practice," Coach Doman said. "He took every last one of them and, like I said, Riley is hurt pretty bad. There's good a chance as ever in his career that he'll get a chance to play on Saturday, and we would be excited as ever for him to get that opportunity.

"I'm sure he'll be ready and prepared to play on Saturday. Whether or not that ends up being the decision that's best for the team, due to his health, I don't know if that will be the case."

Coach Doman believes that if Lark does end up playing, Nelson will support him.

"Riley will support him all the way to the bank if that's what we do, so we'll see what happens, " said Coach Doman. "Probably on Wednesday we'll have a good idea. I think Wednesday we'll have a good feel and doctors will evaluate him. If Riley is 60-to-70 percent, than we'll for sure play James. We'll let James go, absolutely."

In the San Jose State game, Nelson suffered some damage where the cartilage attaches to his rib. Head trainer Jeff Hurst will be evaluating him throughout the week.

"Yeah, the rotational part of what Riley has to do as a quarterback complicates it a little bit just because there is some range of motion that's involved with that," said Hurst. "We'll just see how he does.

"I would say day to day right now. I wouldn't be able to look on Monday and say, ‘Hey, we're going on Saturday,' so we'll just call it day to day."

Assuming he were to get the starting nod, what would it mean to Lark?

"I'm not letting myself think much about that," said Lark with a smile. "I'm just preparing to play. If I got the start I would love it. I would be ready to play. I'm ready to play every week and so it would mean a lot, but right now I'm just focused on getting ready if the opportunity comes."

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