As far as
Derek "Bubba" Starling
is concerned, Monday's 5-4 loss to No. 2 seed and Class 5A Regional host Pittsburg prematurely steered the Gardner-Edgerton (Gardner, Kan.)
centerfielder directly into a discussion that's been going on for months.
After all, he did have other plans — such as playing for a Class 5A state baseball championship.
But, now that his prep athletic career is over, the speedster can focus squarely on the question at hand: Should he remain committed to playing football and baseball for Big Ten-bound Nebraska, or should he head off for a professional baseball career?
Of the three sports Starling competed in for the Eastern Kansas League
School, baseball appears to be the one that presents the brightest
future for the five-tool athlete. Starling is projected to be a Top 5
pick in June's Major League Baseball draft and is ranked the No. 1 high school baseball player in MaxPreps' 2011 Top 100
. He's also ranked No. 30 on Tom Lemming's Class of 2011 Top 100 football list
Gardner-Edgerton baseball coach Jerald VanRheen admits he can't make the decision for Starling. But if the opportunity was his, he said he would play professional baseball.
I mean I've known this kid since he was 5 or 6 years old," VanRheen told MaxPreps' Jeff Cooper in a video. "I want him to do what's going to make him
happy. If playing Major League Baseball is going to make him happy,
great. Go play Major League Baseball. If you want to play football at
Nebraska, great. Go do that. If you just want to get a degree and join
the work force, no problem. Just do what's going to make you happy."
he's played his final game in Gardner, Starling may not stray very far
from home regardless of the decision he makes. Should he choose to play
college ball, Starling would force his loyal fans to travel a mere three
hours north to Lincoln, Neb. to watch him hit the field for the Big Red.
On the flip side, some experts project Starling to go to the nearby Kansas City Royals at No. 5 in the June 6 Major League Baseball Draft.
a little stressful and stuff," Starling said in the video. "But I'm
definitely excited for the future. Whatever I do it's a win-win
Starling swings a big bat and utilizes his speed on the base pads to create misery for enemy defenses.
don't know if you've seen the kid run or not," VanRheen said in the video.
"I'm sure you've watched YouTube videos and know that he can fly. When
he gets on base, literally, he could be two pitches and he's at third
base. So he can steal bases. For the most part he can steal bases without
it even being close."
Starling's foot speed is also an ally when he's tracking down fly balls on defense.
speed," Starling said in the video. "I can cover a lot of ground.
Definitely cover the gaps and stuff. I got priority out in the
Armed with a fastball that regularly reached the
mid-90s, Starling guided the Trailblazers to a 13-8 record a year ago
from the outfield as well as on the mound. This year, however, Starling
has decided to play solely in center field.
His decision was
based in large part on saving his arm for either a college football and
baseball career, or an upcoming professional baseball career.
center field – save my arm," Starling said in the video. "Definitely
talked to (Nebraska football coach Bo) Pelini and he kind of advised the
same thing – he wanted that. I'm just saving my arm for when I go up to
Nebraska. I don't have to pitch and stuff out here."
VanRheen, taking Starling off of the mound and placing him in center
field has been a huge advantage to his defense as well. According to the
Trailblazer skipper, Starling's speed and leadership take away both
gaps and relieve pressure on his right- and left-fielders.
When Starling suffered a quad injury in April, VanRheen said it was devastating to his team.
way he goes about leading us with example – making routine plays – is
huge," VanRheen said in the video. "Giving us good quality at bats,
especially when runners are on base – I mean it (losing him) was big."
Starling and the Trailblazers concluded the 2011 regular season with a 7-5 win over host Blue Valley West Thursday. As he stood before his usual throng of fans, shaking hands and signing autographs, Starling ignored the pleas of the Trailblazer coaching staff.
"Come on Bubba, we gotta get on the bus," yelled a voice from a distance.
"Just three more," Starling responded.
A minute or so later a voice rang out once again.
"Let's go Bubba, we gotta get going."
"Yeah. Just a couple more," Starling chimed in.
Eventually Starling gave into the pleading. But Thursday's scene was one that has played out plenty of times throughout his senior year, regardless of which athletic season was in play. Whether he was playing under the lights on Friday night, throwing down dunks or tracking down fly balls, Starling left no doubt that he was one of the great ones locally and nationally.
Starling guided the Trailblazers to a No. 1 ranking for much of the 2010 football season before Marvin Diener's squad fell victim to eventual Class 5A state football champion Blue Valley 45-42 in a state semifinal tussle. Three weeks earlier, Gardner-Edgerton shelled the Tigers 42-21.
In that first contest between the two Kansas football behemoths, the Trailblazers and Tigers combined for touchdowns on seven consecutive first-half possessions.
"Both offenses were going back-and-forth," Starling said in a previous MaxPreps article. "And finally our defense made a few stops there in the second half. That's when we triggered all the points on the board."
In the loss, Starling was at his best. While Tiger junior signal caller Kyle Zimmerman was throwing for 331 yards and six touchdowns, Starling ran for a school record 396 yards and five scores on 31 carries. For the year, Starling accumulated more than 2,400 yards on the ground and 31 touchdowns on 172 carries. The 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year also threw for 812 yards and eight more scores.
Starling participated in the 2011 U.S. Army All-American bowl. The Simone Award winner, which goes out annually to the top high school football player in the Kansas City area, often made a habit of scoring on long runs early in Trailblazer games, setting the tone and making Gardner-Edgerton opponents play catch-up. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Starling was a load to bring down considering he possesses track star speed.
During basketball season, Starling was somewhat sheltered from the limelight. But he was dangerous just the same, garnering Class 5A first team all-state honors in every publication after averaging 18.2 points per game during a 14-8 Trailblazer season. The senior forward guided Gardner-Edgerton to the sub-state championship game before falling to eventual state consolation winner St. Thomas Aquinas 70-52.Jeff Cooper contributed to this story.