Turning the corner

With improved confidence Scott Starks has become one of the most productive defensive backs in the Big Ten

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Wisconsin cornerback Scott Starks enjoyed a renaissance this season. A three-year starter, the junior's career was teetering on the brink earlier this fall.


Starks had started 27 consecutive games before the third game this season, when sophomore Levonne Rowan earned a start at left corner in his place. Starks, though, has overcome his early-season struggles and put together his finest season, asserting himself as one of the most consistent and integral parts of Wisconsin's defense.


After his auspicious beginning, Starks rebounded, starting the last eight games, and is second in the Big Ten in passes defended (19) and tied for the conference lead with 18 pass breakups.


As the Badgers approach the final chapter of the 2003 season, Starks' renewed confidence, improved comfort level and revitalized play stand out as one of the brightest spots in an up-and-down season.


The week three demotion was unexpected but Starks had often appeared hesitant and disoriented in the team's first two contests. Starks was admittedly struggling, but his uncertainty was understandable—current UW defensive backs coach Ron Lee is Starks' third position coach in as many years. He has had to relearn technique each season, creating a "lack of confidence," as Starks said during bowl workouts. "You go out there, you're thinking too much and you start doing stuff you don't need to do instead of just playing…When I settled down and did my job, it became a lot easier."


"I believe my confidence level when I was a freshman was excellent and then it fell down last year and this year, it's right back where it needs to be, probably even more, so that's helped out a lot," Starks added.


Against UNLV, Starks played in nickel and dime situations and recorded two tackles. Afterwards, his confidence was visibly shaken. The rebirth came with a renewed attitude on the field and the development of a rapport with Lee.


"It's just been easier, me and the coaches have been clicking more, which I haven't clicked really with my coaches the last couple of years," Starks said. "It's just been easier on the field. I've just been concentrating on improving every game."


"I think he is getting a feel of what is expected of him and what we need him to do in that role," Lee said.


Starks' role has increasingly become one of security blanket. With Rowan and junior Chuckie Cowans rotating at right corner, Starks has become one of the Badgers most trusted and important commodities.


He has responded game-in and game-out, playing man-to-man and zone coverage deftly and asserting himself against the run and the pass more than he had previously in his career.


Starks rebounded from his early-season demotion with back-to-back five-tackle games versus North Carolina and Illinois. He had four pass break-ups against Illinois and earned co-defensive player of the week for his performance. Starks' play picked up momentum throughout the season—a necessity with Brett Bell, who started at right corner the first three games, on the shelf after undergoing shoulder surgery.


"I thought Scott had a very good year," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "He was solid all season and up to the point where we could really depend on him. He played press coverage well and when we put him in man-to-man situations he did a good job."


As exemplified by his 18 pass breakups, Starks has been all over the field making plays. In addition to his solid play in coverage, Starks has been a sure tackler and is sixth on the team with 53 stops.


Starks has started 35 of 38 games in his career. Only three players on the current roster—senior receiver Lee Evans (38), senior linebacker Jeff Mack (37) and junior guard Dan Buenning (36)—have more starts under their belts.


"He has improved a lot. Each game he has gotten better," Lee said. "We just talked the other day about this is the game that sets the tone for next year and go out there and continue to build on the success he had the last part of the year and start it off for 2004 with a strong showing against Auburn."


"I want this bowl game to be the momentum for next season," Starks said. "People thought the Colorado game (a 31-28 win in the 2002 Alamo Bowl), it rolled us into the next season and I want to roll right on through the season, not just stop halfway."

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