In the era of transferring quarterbacks, Nick Starkel was a model example for how it should be done
Say what you want about this era of transferring quarterbacks.
It’s immature, it’s disrespectful, it’s shortsighted, it’s disloyal, it’s petty, it’s weak, it’s ridiculous, it’s whatever.
No matter how you feel about quarterbacks transferring at higher rates than ever, we should all be able to agree on one thing — Nick Starkel handled his transfer about as well as anybody in his position could have.
At a time when it seems like the easiest thing to do is hate on a college kid for leaving early or leaving one school for another, it seems only fair to give praise to someone who was none of those aforementioned adjectives throughout the entire awkward process he dealt with at Texas A&M in 2018.
That’s the thing about Starkel. Technically, he didn’t leave early. As he reminded people like myself in his announcement Tuesday night, he’ll finish his undergraduate course work at A&M in June and have 2 years of immediate eligibility as a grad transfer:
Starkel’s situation is similar to plenty of grad transfers before him. Let’s be honest. He lost his job and that’s why he’s looking for a new home. Guys like Jalen Hurts followed that path, and did so like an adult.
So why is Starkel’s situation unique? I’d argue there were more factors at play that could have led to him heading down a different path.
Let’s not forget that at this time last year, Starkel was the favorite to be the Aggies’ starting quarterback in 2019. He significantly outperformed Kellen Mond in 2017. Even better for Starkel’s case to win the starting gig was the fact that he threw for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Belk Bowl, which was Jimbo Fisher’s first up-close look at him following his arrival in College Station in December 2017.
After an offseason of keeping his quarterback decision close to the vest, we found out that Mond was going to get the first crack as Fisher’s starter. Fisher said that Starkel would still be involved in the game plan. But history suggested that once Fisher locked in on a quarterback, he was going to do everything he could to build him up.
So how did Starkel react after he watched Mond light it up in the opener? Well, he took to Twitter to share his opinions about his new reality:
Great TEAM Win!! Proud of all those guys that stepped on the field tonight! 12th Man was amazing!!
— Nicholas Starkel (@NickStarkel) August 31, 2018
Oh, wait. He didn’t drop some subtweet that made it seem like he was getting ready to transfer? Got it.
Starkel didn’t do what basically Alabama’s entire quarterback room did when Hurts took over the starting gig as a true freshman after he torched USC in the 2016 season opener. That is, transfer midseason to try and preserve a year of eligibility. Starkel had already used his redshirt year as a true freshman in 2016, so he didn’t have anything to preserve this year (it’s ironic considering he played in exactly 4 games in 2018).
But try to put yourself in his shoes. Your school goes out and makes its biggest hire in program history, and even better, your new coach is known as a quarterback guru. You, a quarterback who flashed some major potential as the starter the previous season, could have as many as 3 years to work with this national championship-winning coach.
Instead, the guy a year younger than you who barely completed half his passes is named the starter. Anybody who says they wouldn’t be bothered by that to some extent is lying.
We never got to hear Starkel in a press conference setting because A&M’s public relations staff didn’t make him available to the media after the preseason. All we had were tweets from Starkel throughout the season. And well, the backup took to Twitter to share his opinions about his new reality:
Cheesin 24/7 🧀 pic.twitter.com/IqTxifrnWV
— Nicholas Starkel (@NickStarkel) September 29, 2018
— Nicholas Starkel (@NickStarkel) October 28, 2018
In 2019 I want to respond with LOVE to any circumstance! Even if it’s irrational, respond with love ❤️
— Nicholas Starkel (@NickStarkel) December 31, 2018
Oh, wait. It’s incredibly positive.
It doesn’t come off as fake, either. I’m sure there have been frustrating moments for Starkel throughout this process, yet he looked like anything but someone who couldn’t wait to leave when he realized he wasn’t the guy.
There weren’t viral videos of Starkel basically bashing his backup role like the one of Justin Fields after the South Carolina game. Starkel didn’t have some ominous subtweet that was clearly related to the quarterback he was set to compete with like Tate Martell, either.
(Fun fact: Martell actually committed to A&M and said he’d start as a true freshman because Starkel was “a–.”)
Starkel, by the way, is a career 61 percent passer with a 15-6 touchdown-interception ratio and nearly 2,000 passing yards in essentially a half season of work. There will definitely be Power 5 interest in him on the transfer market. Somebody will get a steal and have him become a 2-year starter. Maybe Starkel will be the next Joe Burrow, and he’ll instantly become a leader on a contending team.
Starkel doesn’t exactly come off as a backup with an axe to grind. Between his #AlwaysSmiling mantra and his Justin Bieber undershirts on game day, Starkel clearly isn’t afraid to be himself.
I’ll be honest. I questioned some of Starkel’s offseason behavior as to whether it would help him win the starting job with Fisher in town. From using social media to get reunited with a girl to making videos to try and meet Bieber on spring break, Starkel didn’t come off as someone sitting down at a job interview with his new coach.
I don’t know whether that played a part in Fisher’s decision to ultimately go with Mond. I do know that Fisher really couldn’t have asked for much more out of a backup than what he got from Starkel. And even though Fisher said as recently as 3 weeks ago that he expected Starkel to be at spring practice, he had to see the writing on the wall.
Starkel helped Fisher immensely by providing a solid safety valve for his mobile, oft-sacked starter. That also allowed true freshman James Foster to keep his redshirt. Starkel could have left much earlier than he did, and everybody would have known why he made that decision.
Now, Starkel is indeed leaving. He’ll follow a new path to what he hopes will be a starting job and more of the success he enjoyed in 2017.
In doing so, other transfer quarterbacks can follow Starkel’s path to a proper exit.