Every Thursday night, Starks roams the sidelines of his 6-year-old son Trey’s youth football team, the Davie Broncos, serving as the head coach. During that one hour to ninety minutes, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Virginia native has to resist the urge to go out there and make a tackle and concentrate on coaching.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Starks, who was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after Miami’s Week 5 win at Cincinnati. “I get to see improvement in kids while coaching them and having a good time, but I also get to see how our Head Coach (Joe Philbin) feels. When they do something you tell them not to do I really see how he feels and how you can get mad, but at the same time they’re only 6 and 7 so you can only get so mad at them.”
Starks has seen the gamut when it comes to the different personalities and skill levels of his players, with some having grown up around the game like his son and others easily distracted by their parents or a butterfly floating past them. So he has to reign in his own emotions and remember that at this age the priority is to teach the kids the fundamentals and the life lessons that come from playing football.
To that end, Starks has to temper his disappointment after losses, which happened quite a bit early in the season, and reflect on the fun moments. He didn’t start playing football until high school because he was too big as a youth. So now he gets to experience that period through his son’s eyes and he’s stored some of those memories away for later, while making sure not to bring his coaching hat home with him.
“There was a moment where I saw him blow up a guard one time and make a tackle and I don’t think he knew what he did,” Starks recalled. “He kind of got excited and I was like, ‘Yeah, but do it again. You can’t get excited now, they’re about to run another play.’ So that was fun.”
When the Broncos were struggling to a 2-4 record earlier this month, Starks had to find that balance between his natural instinct as a competitor wanting to win and the goal of this league to develop young players. Some of the teams the Broncos have lost two had been together longer and had some players that, to put it in a politically correct fashion, looked to be better developed than their peers.
Last year, Starks experienced a 0-7 start to the Dolphins’ season and also experienced an exciting 6-3 finish, so he has been able to pass on some of those lessons to his son and the rest of the team. He also has developed a new respect for what Philbin, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers go through every week.
“I can see what Coach is talking about when he points out missed tackles and not doing your assignment or doing what you’re told,” Starks said. “I know exactly how they feel when we get an offsides or another penalty or give up a big play. It’s still fun watching the kids learn and you can tell that they care because when the other team scores a touchdown they get down.
“I’m still teaching them techniques and it’s fun to be out there and I tell them to just keep playing and to not quit on me. If you do too much yelling at kids that age you’ll get a negative response, but sometimes I’ll get on them. I’ll also give them a little incentive and something to look forward to and I’m just glad to be out there for the simple fact that I can be a role model to them and have a positive impact.”