It wasn't all that long ago – less than a week, actually – that West Virginia freshman Bradley Starks would trot out onto the playing surface of Milan Puskar Stadium clad in his gold quarterback jersey ready to lead the Mountaineer offense.
Starks would take the snap, survey the field, and if nobody was open, he would tuck the pigskin and motor around the corner, knowing all the while that the whistle would blow as soon as a defender neared. After the play was blown dead, Starks would turn around and jog back to the offensive huddle, receiving his fair share of trash talk from would-be tacklers who, if they hit Starks, would soon after be hitting the stadium steps as punishment.
"(The defense) always talked about me having the gold jersey on and they couldn't wait for me to get it off so they could hit me," Starks recalled with a chuckle.
On Monday afternoon, those defenders got their wish…sort of. Starks traded in his gold No. 12 for a white No. 2, spending the entire two-hour workout at wide receiver after splitting time over the past couple of weeks between quarterback and wideout.
Once again, however, defenders it seemed were unable to hit Bradley Starks at times, even though his white jersey meant he was now fair game. Two days after hauling in a 50-yard touchdown from Jarrett Brown working with the second team offense, Starks again showed big-play ability, this time catching a 70-yard bomb from Brown in stride after zooming past the befuddled Mountaineer secondary.
The thought process behind preparing Starks to play at receiver is two-fold, but rather simple. Despite being in the program for less than a year, Starks has shown already that he can play at this level. Yet with Heisman hopeful Patrick White directing the offense for his senior season, and the talented Brown sitting right behind, the best-case scenario for Starks seeing the field at quarterback in 2008 would involve a worst-case scenario for the Mountaineers as a whole, meaning an injury to White and/or Brown.
Second, in the new offensive system installed by coordinator Jeff Mullen, West Virginia is looking for a speedster to stretch the field vertically, something it sorely missed last season and has not consistently had since the days of Chris Henry.
"Clearly, there's a need for him at (wide receiver) if we move him to that position," explained Mullen. "We feel like he might have a physical skill set that's better than what we've got. Of course, you want to get your best overall 11 on the field and we think that physically, he might be one of our best 11."
Let it be known that Starks came to WVU with the intention of playing quarterback, and that deep down, that intention has not changed.
"I'm a quarterback at heart," he said. "That's what I'll always be."
In reality, though, he's not going to see the field ahead of White or Brown, at least not without an injury or in mop up time. Thus, the move to receiver.
"It's a permanent move as long as Pat White's at quarterback," Mullen said. It's a permanent move as long as Jarrett Brown's at quarterback.
"He's still a slash in our books, and a backup quarterback. He's got to know that position as well."
For now, at least, he's a receiver first. And while the quarterback inside of him might view the switch as a demotion, Starks is looking to make the most out of his move to the perimeter. As a quarterback, he was responsible for knowing all the routes. As a receiver, he is now responsible for running them. His experience in Morgantown as a quarterback, however brief, has already gone a long way in helping him learn the ropes out wide.
"It helps a lot, just knowing where the routes are at and the type of spacing that I need," he said. Being a quarterback, you get that feeling of where open space is at and where to go to."
The same natural athletic ability that made him a perfect fit for the spread offense behind center has also eased his transition to wide receiver. So, too, has a healthy attitude and glass half-full approach that has aided his initial ascent up the depth chart.
"That's why he's excelled, because he's accepted it," Mullen said. "I think he understands the big picture that it's team-first. He's accepted that, and I'm really proud of him for that. Because he's accepted that, he's having success out there."
"I'm just going to continue to work hard at it every day with (wide receivers coach Lonnie) Galloway," Starks added. "I'm going to nip at it in bits and pieces. As far as progressing every day, I feel I'm doing pretty good."