Starling making impact with UTSA

Former John Tyler standout Darrien Starling (24), who plays cornerback for UT San Antonio, breaks up a pass against Bacone during a Sept. 24, 2011 game at the Alamodome in San Antonio. San Antonio Express-News Photo

SAN ANTONIO — UT San Antonio cornerback Darrien Starling won’t have trouble forgetting his first interception.

Of course the first pick is always the most memorable, but this one was extra special. It was also the first for the UTSA football program.

The big moment came against McMurry in the second game of UTSA’s inaugural season and though the Roadrunners lost the contest to the NCAA Division III power, it was a big moment for the former John Tyler High School standout, who finished with six tackles.

“Getting the first pick in the history of the school was so big,” the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Starling said. “I was waiting so long for that moment. When it happened I was so happy to get there and make the play.”

Starling had another interception later in the year and finished his rookie season with 35 tackles. Not a bad start for a redshirt freshman, who started each game during the Roadrunners’ 4-6 campaign. With a little more know-how, Starling plans to do more as a sophomore.

This year will be different. Instead of playing an independent schedule, UTSA joins the Western Athletic Conference, before moving to Conference USA the following season.

Starling wants to make his presence felt.

“I have very high goals for myself,” Starling said. “I think it’s a must for me to try to make All-WAC and help us win more games. That’s the main goal. A measurable goal is to get more picks.

“I would like to have at least four. I want to have more tackles. I want to be around the ball and make more plays. I want to be more involved.”

UTSA coaches saw Starling’s ability to make an impact while he was earning All-East Texas honors his senior season with the Lions.

He had a knack for being in the right places at the right time as evident to his 33 tackles and five interceptions during JT’s 12-2 campaign that ended in the Class 5A Division II quarterfinals with a 31-7 loss to Klein. Still, making the jump from high school to college was a major change.

Since UTSA didn’t play Starling’s first season on campus, he used that time to get used to college life. He adjusted to the speed of the game and became familiar with the Roadrunners’ system. The true learning experience came when the games began.

“As a player I got to see the how fast the game was going,” Starling said. “I had a pretty good freshman season, but for me I didn’t reach all my goals I wanted to meet. I felt my freshman year was a big learning experience. I learned how to win and play. I learned how to keep up with the speed and intensity with the other college teams. Last season I felt I was getting my feet wet.”

Now, that Starling is older and wiser, he is ready to make a bigger splash.

“I am way smarter than last year,” Starling said. “I thought I was smart last year, but during the offseason I watched film with my (secondary) coach. We had cut-ups of every play I was in, whether it was a run or pass. We evaluated everything. When I looked at it I wished I would have done the things I know now.

“The main thing was making sure I kept my eyes on the quarterback at all times. In high school I could sometimes get away with having your eyes in the wrong place and still be able to make a drive on the ball or possibly get an interception. In college you take your eyes off the quarterback a split second it can lead to him making a big play. You also have to be patient and trust your instincts. If you can do those things you’ll be fine.”

Starling also believes the Roadrunners as a team has matured in a short period of time under head coach Larry Coker’s guidance. Although the three-year program may not be established like the teams they’re playing this season, Starling expects UTSA to show its progress.

“I’m very confident in our team,” Starling said. “If you look at us last year and look now it’s night and day different. The key for us is execution. If we execute and take away the small hiccups we had last season we can do some good things. We’re not going to be a write-off on other teams’ schedules.”

Pat Turner is a former Tyler Morning Telegraph sports writer. He covers the San Antonio Missions Texas League baseball team and college athletics for the San Antonio Express-News.

The University of Texas

at San Antonio Roadrunners

2012 Football Schedule

Aug. 30 at South Alabama 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 A&M-Commerce 1 p.m.

Sept. 15 at Georgia State 5 p.m.

Sept. 22 NW Oklahoma St. 1 p.m.

Sept. 29 *at New Mexico St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 at Rice 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 20 *San Jose State 1 p.m.

Oct. 27 *Utah State 1 p.m.

Nov. 3 *at Louisiana Tech 3 p.m.

Nov. 10 McNeese State 4 p.m.

Nov. 17 *at Idaho 4 p.m.

Nov. 24 *Texas State 1 p.m.

* Western Athletic Conference game

All home games at Alamodome

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