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Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That's what the Intel brings. This entry provides the first DawgNation deep dive into the heartfelt personal story of Class of 2022 ATH Malaki Starks.

Malaki Starks will probably always wear the No. 24 as long as he plays football.

Starks, a Class of 2022 ATH from Jefferson High in Northeast Georgia, is already highly sought byAlabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU.

Those programs are among the biggest of big boys in college football. They all want to see him in that No. 24 in their locker room one day. There are at least 24 reasons why.

The most heartfelt is the right place to start.

"When I was little, I had a favorite cousin," Starks said. "He was like a brother. He was older than me actually but he played football at a school close to mine. He started wearing No. 24 because of me. He was nine and I was seven and he got shot at the age of nine. I wear No. 24 because of him because he had started wearing it because of me before he died at an early age."

"So I now wear the No. 24 because of him."

His name was Keion Gresham. Starks wants everyone to remember his name. He still has two more seasons of high school to go, but already has a clear purpose to excel in the game of football.

"He would have been 18 years old two months ago," Starks said.

When things get tough in his life, he already has two anchors in his life to stay grounded.

"My why would be my family," Starks said. "Not that I had the worst childhood growing up, but I didn't have the best either. But my sister she had a baby early in school. So it just brought another mouth in the house to feed and not a lot of money. I do [all of this] for my family so one day my Mom and my Dad can stop working and I can take care of all of them."

His sister, Mariah, is now 20. His nephew, Isaiah, has been making him the proudest uncle for three years now.

"We spend a lot of time together," Starks said. "So I am kind of like the big uncle to make sure he's okay and everything and to make sure he knows what's right from wrong."

He will write Isaiah's birthdate on the tape on his arms for games. When he looks down in a huddle or before a big moment, he wants to see it.

Life is not easy. It helps him to always remember that.

"When I get into a tough situation like late in the fourth quarter or something wise," he said. "Or when things get tough. Of course, my family is the first thing that pops up. But I will also remember when Keion and I were in the yard. We were training together and it was hot outside and we wanted to give up."

"He would tell me to keep going. He would say life is not easy. I mean he was young but he was wise. He told me sometimes in life we just have to push through things. So I keep that with me all the time. Every time things get tough."

Keion Gresham sounds like he would have brought more of that wisdom to our world the last nine years. But that family tragedy was just another senseless example of gun violence.

"Him and his brother both died," Starks said. "It was kind of a drive-by shooting but I wouldn't call it a drive-by. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Those shots were not indented for his two cousins. They were just caught in the crossfire.

When he makes a play on the field or the court, he will pat the No. 24 on his chest. Then he will look up to the heavens for Gresham. He puts that number on his cleats, too.

The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Starks hopes to wear No. 24 for the rest of his career.

"I want to," Starks said. "That's the plan."


Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Malaki Starks: Checking out that impressive 2019 season

Does adversity build character? Or reveal it? There is another layer of hardship to discuss here.

It could be seen as one of those "when things get tough" moments for Starks.


Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

"I play basketball too and freshmen year we had a basketball league for our team and I was going up for like a lay-up or dunk type deal," he said. "I can't remember exactly what happened because I blacked out. But I broke my tibia and they told me I would miss basketball season and my next football season, too."

He sat out his freshman year. The 2019 season was actually his first season of high school football.

He was supposed to miss basketball season and track that year, too.

But this young man doesn't mind getting pushed. He can thank his physical therapist Julee Williams for that.

"She pushed me," Starks said. "She knew my limits. She knew when I didn't want to be there. She made me work even harder. She got me back early enough to go play basketball as a freshman and then to go run track."

When one learns Starks likes to box in his spare time as a hobby and for training, then such a comeback sounds much more plausible.

Starks is rated as the nation's No. 13 ATH and No. 149 overall prospect for 2022 on the 247Sports Composite scale. That's because he has played a lot of everything for his Jefferson High football program in Northeast Georgia.

It is a Class AAA school. They will ask a lot from Starks.

He's been a receiver, a running back and a free safety and a kick returner. Jefferson now plans to line him up this fall as a Wing-T quarterback. He looks to be aneven loftier prospect on film than the No. 149 recruit in America.

There are pictures of Starks in the Georgia locker room at the outset of his 2019 season highlight reel. It will be hard for readers of this blog to miss that.

He speaks often with Georgia defensive backs coach Charlton Warren.

"I talk to coach Warren a lot and our relationship is far from none," Starks said. "The first time I met him we clicked. I saw what he was doing up there and I loved it. I saw him at a camp and saw how he coached. There was a guy there from the JUCO league (DJ Daniel) who was there in camp. He was coaching him like he would coach one of his players and was really pushing him. So Coach Warren and I really clicked from the first time I met him."

"We've just been clicking like that ever since."

Starks defined what he meant by that "far from none" phrasing in regard to Warren.

"It is special," he said. "It is unique. I'm a people person, but I don't know if that's it. I feel that the bond that we have beyond that is just real there."

He said he has established strong bonds with the staffs at Alabama, Clemson, FSU and LSU.

"They are all just so cool," he said. "Those guys are all different but it is all kind of the same even though I have different relationships with all of them."

What position is he being recruited to play?

"Some schools think athlete," Starks said. "Some other schools think as a defensive back. It is more like half and half, but more on the DB side than athlete."

His favorite positions are wide receiver and defensive back. If he had to figure out where to play himself, he'd settle at safety.

"I'd put myself at free safety," Starks said.

That's the natural choice. The hands and speed and agility and jumping ability are all over that film. His ball skills would make him a natural wideout, too.

Did you know the weekly DawgNation.com "Before the Hedges" program is now available as an Apple podcast? Click to check it out and download.

Malaki Starks: A lot of interest in his home state Bulldogs

Starks was actually able to visit Georgia in early March before the global pandemic shut down all NCAA on-campus recruiting visits.

What was that like? He said it was just different than his other visits.

"That is a great question," he said. "I've been to Georgia a bunch of times actually. That is a great question. The last time I went was their "Junior Day" on March 1. I loved it. Especially the whole trying on the jersey part. That was real cool."

What did that feel like?

"It felt good," Starks said. "I felt like I could see myself playing in that jersey. That was fun. It is not like everyday you get to do that. I definitely put as much into that trip that day as I could."


Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

Count Starks among those track guys that Kirby Smart likes to see in potential Bulldog recruits.

He's already had a few conversations with the head coach.

"We talked a lot about the school and if I did go to Georgia where I would fit in at," Starks said. "Where I could play at because I am so versatile. He says I could play anywhere I wanted to but he said that he really sees me on the defensive side of the ball."

Smart and Warren view him as hybrid defensive back. He can even play the "Star" position because of that overall athleticism he shows as a three-sport athlete, including high school track.

He will run the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the 4X100 and the 4X400 relay for the well-known Jefferson High track program. Starks will also compete in the long jump and triple jump.

The rising junior soared almost 44 inches in the triple jump as a freshman.

If there would have been track season this spring, he would have likely cleared 45 feet as a sophomore. His best long jump would be between 22 and 23 feet at this time.

He has been timed at 22.48 in the 200 meters.

"My best 100 is an 11.02," he said. "This year I would have broken 10.9 this spring but I didn't get to run track. I was kind of upset about that."

Starks also holds down a 3.7 grade-point average at a school with a statewide reputation for academic achievement. He said he made all As as a sophomore.

"My grades are important to me," he said. "Because I'm way more than just an athlete. Most people when they see me in college they will go Oh he's an athlete' but I want them to also see a student. A guy who is also trying to get a major. Life is way bigger than football. I think school is very important so I put that at number two. God comes first. School comes second and then family and then everything after that."

Sports management has a lead on psychology for his intended major. He is already talking to his coaches about enrolling early in college in January of 2022.


Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA

The other schools in the mix for Malaki Starks

His dream teams growing up were Georgia and Oregon. Oregon is a common answer for prospects all over the country. The Ducks held sway over a majority of current high school players when they were in elementary and early middle school.

Clemson recently offered. His uncle, Jerome Williams, played tight end for the Tigers in the late 1980s.

"Clemson is also like a family school for me," he said.

Alabama and Georgia are the only two schools he has visited. He's been to UGA "five or six" times. His Tuscaloosa trip number count currently sits at two visits.

"I don't want to make my decision too early because I have only taken two visits," he said. "I want to wait it out until my senior year because my senior year I just want to focus on my sports in high school. So I think the best time would be at the end of my junior year. Something like that."

Where would he go visit right now if he could?

"Honestly I think the first school I would go visit right now if I could would be Georgia," he said. "Because it is just up the road. But I would definitely want to go to Clemson, FSU and Notre Dame and all of those other schools, too."

He said that Alabama, Clemson, FSU, Georgia and LSU are recruiting him the hardest right now.

"I want where I go to feel like home," he said. "I want to go somewhere I feel like where they compete hard but they love each other at the same time. They love the grind and the process as much as they love the product. Where it is like everybody is on the same page."

"I also just want to go somewhere when I can just be me. I don't have to be a J.R. Reed. I don't have to be the next [Tyrique] Stevenson. I just want to be me."

What got Malaki Starks into football

Starks began his career because of a reason that is common to a lot of boys. It is one aspect of American life that has not changed much over the last 50 years.

"The reason why I started playing football is I had a lot of anger issues when I was little," Starks said. "My brother played football, too. I tried it at first and I won't lie I was scared of getting hit. But my first game my coach gave me the ball and I took off to the sidelines and once I got to the sidelines I knew nobody could catch me. But when I got to the touchdown I just keep running because I didn't know when to stop."

That was his "Forrest Gump" moment from the movie that all the children of the 1990s have seen.

"I wasn't always like really good at football from the start," Starks said. "I was decent but it wasn't really given to me. I had to work for it and I take a lot of pride in that."

For those that clicked his film, he wants to leave viewers with a certain impression.

"I want people to say he is a great leader," Starks said. "Leadership is not just a big part of football but life itself. That comes with a lot to be seen as a leader. If someone can see me and say I'm a great leader, then that means I am working hard on everything. That means I am turning my feet. Getting my hands right. Getting my eyes on their hips and not flipping too early."

"But it also means making sure my other teammates are doing everything that they need to be doing. I want somebody to say that's a great leader when they see me play."

Starks did say that the Clemson Tigers have made the biggest charge in his recruitment of late during the dead period.

"They were my latest offer," he said. "They couldn't offer any 2022s until a certain date. But when they could, they offered me on the first day. They are just close. I love the things they have built up there. I love the leadership in the program. Like I told you, that aspect of leadership is a big deal for me. I love the competitiveness I see up there and then it is just really good people up there, too."


(the recent reads on DawgNation.com)

The post Malaki Starks: The 2022 prospect who could be a future class anchor at UGA appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • Every year the SEC shows once again that one of college football's most important arms races is the ability to acquire quality assistants. The energy and expertise these top lieutenants can provide can be invaluable on the field and in recruiting. With that in mind, here are the most important new faces in the league this year. 1 Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator Monken is at UGA for a simple reason. His predecessor didn't get the job done. The Bulldogs offense was woeful in 2019 in the now-departed James Coley's lone season at the helm. UGA averaged just 30.8 points per game 7.1 points per game fewer than its 2018 average. Coley wasn't the only reason the offense sputtered, but few UGA fans shed tears when he didn't return. Now the pressure will be on Monken to add more punch to the offense a challenge made more difficult by the absence of spring practice due to the coronavirus lockdown. 2 Bo Pelini, LSU defensive coordinator An argument can be made that LSU's most important hire was Scott Linehan as a replacement for passing game coordinator Joe Brady who moved on to the Carolina Panthers during the offseason. Frankly, replacing Brady will be a tall task. It's unlikely LSU's offense comes close to matching the firepower Brady and quarterback Joe Burrow teamed up to provide last season. All the more reason Pelini who returns to his role as LSU defensive coordinator, a job he held from 2005-07 needs to establish a dominant unit. LSU is the reigning national champion, but defense was hardly the reason why. The Tigers were just 29th nationally in yards per play allowed last season. That number needs to improve this year. The good news is Pelini will have cornerback Derek Stingley at his disposal among the nation's best defensive players. 3 Mike Bobo, South Carolina offensive coordinator It was surprising to many that Bobo wanted to be the Gamecocks offensive coordinator after his tenure as Colorado State head coach came to an end. This is partially because some thought he might want to go back to his alma mater, UGA, and partially because some folks assume Bobo's new boss, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is squarely on the hot seat, and therefore could result in a short-tenured employment for Bobo. For what it's worth, UGA coach Kirby Smart has denied discussing a possible role for Bobo on his staff and Bobo has said he's excited about the challenge of rebuilding the Gamecocks offense. If Bobo's previous track record is an indicator, the rest of the SEC could soon be on notice. UGA was first in the SEC with 41.3 points per game in Bobo's last season as Bulldogs offensive coordinator in 2014. South Carolina might not quite match that feat this season, but a more experienced Ryan Hilinski at quarterback and the debut of freshman running back MarShawn Lloyd should enable Bobo to provide a major offensive upgrade. 4 Chad Morris, Auburn offensive coordinator Stop me if you've heard this before, but Auburn fans are curious if head coach Gus Malzahn will finally trust an offensive coordinator enough to delegate some authority. This has been a familiar story for the Tigers. The luxury of trust has been hard to come by for many in the role Morris will occupy under Malzahn. Two previous offensive coordinators left the Tigers for what appeared to be less attractive jobs. Rhett Lashlee became UConn offensive coordinator in 2017, and the freedom to run his own offense was cited as a reason for his departure. When Chip Lindsey left for Kansas (before eventually becoming head coach at Troy), it was widely assumed a tug of war with Malzahn had played into his decision as well. Will Malzahn grant to Morris what he's seemingly denied to others? One of the reasons pointing to yes is that Malzahn and Morris are long-time friends. Another is Morris' previous success as an offensive coordinator. Morris put up big numbers at Clemson prior to becoming SMU and Arkansas head coach, and was paid handsomely for his work. He, along with Malzahn, were the two highest paid offensive coordinators in the country in 2014 with a salary of $1.3 million. Morris will make less than that at Auburn, but will have a chance to prove to be a worthy investment for the Tigers. 5 Kendal Briles and Barry Odom Arkansas offensive and defensive coordinator New Arkansas coach Sam Pittman made quite a splash with his coordinator hires, and at least briefly calmed any concerns that might exist about his lack of experience as a head coach. 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  • ATHENS There is no question every Georgia football fan, coach, player and everyone else associated with the program is eager for the Bulldogs to begin the season. The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper over 2020 and left everyone yearning for a dose of normal that football season could provide if kicked off on time. The Bulldogs are in the midst of voluntary workouts, with Coach Kirby Smart and his staff able to begin supervising them on July 15. Georgia is scheduled to open the season on Monday, Sept. 7, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against Virginia. In hindsight, playing the game on Saturday Sept. 5 would be much, much better. For that matter, a home game would have been even more beneficial. That said, it surely seemed like a good idea in January of 2017 for Georgia to open the season on a Monday night against Virginiawith the neutral site game. No one could have known then what we have all been dealing with now, some 2 1/2 years later. The SEC announced in August of 2019 that the Bulldogs game at Alabama would be on Sept. 19 this season. That set up the Bulldogs to play three games in 13 days. And that means Georgia will have two days less time to prepare for that showdown than the Crimson Tide. One could argue it's really three less days, since Georgia has a travel day built in with the game being played in Tuscaloosa. So here's the cautionary tale involving Georgia rival Tennessee opening on a Monday night. Three years ago, the Vols were in the same situation with three games in 13 days to open the season. It was a concern of the Tennessee staff then, and, sure enough, in hindsight there was some second-guessing. The Vols beat Georgia Tech in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 42-41, in double-overtime on that Monday night. But less than two weeks later, Tennessee was back on the road traveling to play Florida for a key SEC matchup. It was a showdown with the Gators just 12 days later that proved to break the back of previous Vols coach Butch Jones. Florida won the game at The Swamp, 26-20, on the last play of regulation. Tennessee's goal-line offensive package faltered, and the defense designed for the final drive of the game had more breakdowns than was typical for a Bob Shoop defense. Could two days more rest or preparation have helped or made a difference at one of those critical junctures? It's also fair to wonder about programs giving up home games moving forward in the near future. The school may lose some surface contract money, but it has become clear there's a value to have money kept in the home community. After all, those student athletes, head coaches and athletic department employees rely on the local hospitals, authorities and businesses. The recent trying times brought about by COVID-19 have magnified the importance of helping to build the home community, and not just taking from it. Georgia football preseason stories Georgia football OL Jamaree Salyer weighty issue, eager to compete Richard LeCounte explains UGA has great chance for national title Jamie Newman on the clock, embracing UGA's elite defense D.J. Shockley shares take on UGA freshman QB Carson Beck Georgia projections, playmakers at receiver and running back Why Georgia must take advantage of new schedule more than others The post Monday night opener could come back to bite Georgia football at Alabama appeared first on DawgNation.
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  • Braves manager Brian Snitker announced the team had four players test positive for COVID-19: first baseman Freddie Freeman, left-hander Will Smith, right-hander Touki Toussaint and utilityman Pete Kozma. Smith and Toussaint are asymptomatic. Freeman and Kozma have fevers, but Kozma is feeling better, according to Snitker. The players gave their consent to announce their names. Read more on this story on ajc.com.