A scary thought entered Donnie Starks’ mind when he realized only a handful of games remained in his college football career.
If he didn’t act fast, the senior defensive back pondered a few weeks ago, he was going to leave Kansas State without making a single interception.
“That thought did cross my mind,” Starks said. “But now I got three. It is a great feeling, definitely a relief.”
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Starks has kicked his game into high gear over the past two weeks and impressive, game-altering plays have followed. After going 27 games, 22 starts and nearly four full seasons without an interception, K-State’s plug-and-play corner suddenly has three picks in his past two games.
He intercepted Baylor quarterback Zach Smith twice while lining up as K-State’s nickelback, a position that defends mostly slot receivers. Then he moved out wide to take over for injured corner Duke Shelley against Kansas and played even better, delivering the signature play of his K-State career by jumping an out route for an interception and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a great feeling,” Starks said. “When I caught it, after about two steps, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I am really about to score.’ I had nothing but green in front of me. I was too excited. Then I went and pointed to my family and tried to share it with them.”
A perfect blend of senior urgency and opportunity has allowed Startks a perfect close to his final season.
Throughout his time at K-State, Starks has been a dependable player. He has defended nine passes and made 97 tackles, including four for loss. His favorite stat: He hasn’t allowed a single passing touchdown in 29 games.
At times, Starks says, he has played so well that quarterbacks choose not to throw his way, limiting his opportunities to make big plays. That changed the past two weeks.
“He’s a guy who never had interceptions in his career and it all just changed for him against Baylor,” K-State linebacker Elijah Lee said. “Now he is carrying that over. He just lives for those moments.”
Starks should continue to see an increase in passes at his new position. Shelley watched the KU game from the sideline on crutches and is out indefinitely. That means Starks will defend top receivers when K-State plays TCU and then again when the Wildcats head to their bowl game.
Defending speedy receivers near the sideline will be a big change from defending lesser receivers across the middle, but it’s one Starks and K-State coach Bill Snyder think he will embrace.
“He played reasonably well (against KU),” Snyder said. “He certainly made some mistakes that need to be corrected, not necessarily mistakes that would cost you major plays in a ballgame, but plays he needs to be better at. In reality, he is kind of out of position, but when you look at our defensive backs, it is a matter of getting the best five on the field and Donnie is one of the best five.”
That has been the case for several seasons. Now Starks has the interceptions to back it up.
The scary thought in his mind is no more.
“The stars have aligned for me,” Starks said. “Everything is playing out perfect.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett