College football Sacred Heart’s big Starr
Andrew Starr is every bit your prototypical offensive lineman, from his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame right down to the aggressive mean streak he showcases every Saturday.
“I try to be nasty,” said Starr, Sacred Heart’s starting left tackle. “I really try my darndest to. I know that’s a characteristic I want, especially playing O-line.”
Kevin Duke encourages Starr to play angry. After all, it’s Starr who is responsible for protecting Duke’s blind side on game days.
“Andrew, he’s a different type of character,” Duke said of the former Brien McMahon star. “He tries to put up that big tough guy front, but inside he’s just a big teddy bear. He loves hanging out with the guys. He’s willing to do anything to sacrifice for the team.
“I know he always has my back. I tell him, ‘Hey man, I trust that you’ve got my back. I’ve got yours. We’re in this thing together.’ ”
Mark Nofri won’t go so far as to call Starr a teddy bear, but the Sacred Heart head coach said there is an unmistakable soft side to Starr — just not out on the football field.
“He’s not mean or aggressive off the field,” Nofri said. “On the field, he’s that way.”
On the field, Starr, strong and versatile, is the unquestioned lynch pin of Sacred Heart’s offensive line. He’s played everywhere but center in his three years with the Pioneers, including the last two as the starter at right tackle.
And off the field? We’ll let Starr, the senior English major, tell more about himself.
“It’s not really a shocker — or maybe it is,” he said before a brief pause. “When you say you’re an English major and a football player, it kind of takes people aback. I really love writing poetry. Poetry is what really drew me into switching majors from graphic design to English. I really enjoy writing poetry and reading it. That’s kind of my niche.”
He added: “When you have a lot of emotion and you don’t really have the outlet of football 24/7 … and you don’t always feel like talking to people, I think poetry is such an awesome way of just expressing yourself and being able to really portray how you feel.”
So far, the Pioneers are feeling pretty good — especially the big guys in the trenches. Coming off a 41-14 rout of Wagner, the Pioneers are 3-0 and averaging a whopping 232.3 rushing yards per game. They’ve done nearly all of that without starting running back Eli Terry, who injured his knee on the very first drive of the season.
“When you go into somebody else’s house and give them a beating like the way we did, it’s definitely a good confidence-booster,” said Duke, who was named Northeast Conference Offensive Player of the Week following his 322-yard, four-touchdown performance on Saturday. “On the same note, just because we did that to one team doesn’t mean the next team’s going to roll over for us. It’s about staying focused this week and making sure all the guys are on the same page. We’ve got to take another step forward this week instead of taking a step back.”
Starr does not need to be reminded about what’s at stake heading into Saturday’s trip to Cornell (0-2). All he needs to do is point to the 2-7 tailspin that sunk the Pioneers’ 2017 season to prove that a strong start doesn’t necessarily mean a strong finish.
“I think there’s a mean streak that I gained from last year to this year just because of the way the (2017) season went,” he said. “It’s obviously not the way we wanted it to go. I think the ending on a sour note against Wagner — the whole defense was talking smack to us — it was really frustrating because we weren’t working as a collective unit.”
Nowhere on the field is continuity and togetherness more important than along the offensive line. The fact that the Pioneers returned so little experience up front — aside from, of course, Starr and fellow tackle Knikeem Lewis — raised questions about how their offense would adapt in 2018.
For the Pioneers, those concerns have been answered.