- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Defensive tackle Randy Starks would consider leaving the Maryland Terrapins one year early if a standout performance in the Gator Bowl elevates him to the first round of the NFL Draft.

The All-ACC lineman’s instinct is to return for his senior year and hope for a strong season that would propel him into the top 10 in the draft. Starks then would be able to sign a contract worth several million dollars more than he would as a late first-round choice.

However, Starks has requested that an NFL evaluation be done before the Jan.15 deadline to declare for the draft. Ten pro personnel directors will project the round in which he would be taken in the April draft. Starks could bolster his position with a big effort against West Virginia in Thursday’s Gator Bowl.

Starks said he’s torn between remaining with his college teammates for another season and receiving an NFL paycheck a year earlier.

“If I’m one of the early picks, it’s hard [to stay],” he said. “I plan on coming back next year. College is your best time. I’m an only child, and these guys are like my brothers. It’s a family atmosphere.”

Starks isn’t rated on many draft boards because he has not declared for the draft. Several NFL scouts said he might be a late first round or early second round selection. Scouts said Starks would benefit from another season at Maryland to mature physically; he turned 20 on Dec.14. However, Starks posted a team-record 765-pound squat lift during the preseason as the Terps’ second strongest player.

Starks led Maryland with 141/2 tackles for a loss, plus 71/2 sacks even though he often faced double teams. A preseason contender for the Lombardi and Outland Trophies, he steadily improved through the season.

“Overall, I helped the team, and that’s my role,” Starks said. “I know the stats don’t say that, but I feel good. I finished strong and made a lot of big plays. [One opponent] had three people on me once.”

Maryland stymied West Virginia’s offense in the Terps’ 34-7 victory on Sept.20. The Mountaineers gained only 88 yards before the Terps put in their reserves in the fourth quarter. Starks helped clog the middle with six tackles.

“Randy and their whole front seven are as strong physically as anyone,” West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Their strength gives them an edge.”

Notes — Quarterback Orlando Evans is listed as doubtful after suffering a knee injury during practice yesterday. Evans’ knee buckled as he was scrambling during a drill. Joel Statham is the probable No.2, and Sam Hollenbach worked with the third unit. …

West Virginia is using a left-handed passer from its scout team during practices to emulate Maryland southpaw quarterback Scott McBrien. … Senior running back Bruce Perry will start in his final game. … The Terps seemed energized during practice, especially in the contact drills that left the offensive and defensive units cheering big plays. Friedgen nearly stopped the blitz drill after two jarring hits. … Twelve players visited children at a local hospital. Another 23 players offered to go, but Gator Bowl officials said space was limited. … Linebacker Shawne Merriman’s recent coat drive netted 8,000 for Prince George’s County shelters. … Nearly 79,000 are expected after 3,500 temporary seats were added to Alltel Stadium. Maryland sold more than 17,000 tickets while West Virginia peddled 24,500.

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