Malaki Starks: How does the Charlton Warren move affect UGA with the 5-star priority target?

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DawgNation considers Malaki Starks the No. 1 target on the board for the 2022 cycle in Athens.

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. This entry will be the first of several stories this week about 5-star ATH Malaki Starks out of Jefferson High in Northeast Georgia. Starks ranks as the No. 1 target for DawgNation.com for the 2022 recruiting cycle in Athens. 

Georgia freshman early enrollee Brock Vandagriff played through the final months of the 2020 season with a serious knee injury. Vandagriff had told DawgNation he expected postseason surgery to repair his torn PCL injury, but that did not turn out to be the case.

As the football spins, the 5-star senior QB wasn’t the only guy DawgNation was watching closely as he played with a major injury in the 2020 Georgia high school playoffs. Malaki Starks, the 5-star junior in the 2022 cycle, thought he was grinding out the postseason with a broken thumb or a broken bone in his hand.

Starks learned recently he didn’t have a break in his right hand at all.

“It was like the ligament in your thumb that connects your joints to the other joints in your hands,” Starks said. “Where you have like your grip in your hand. That ligament was completely torn. But I had surgery Wednesday. Wednesday night was kind of rough but the days are getting easier as the days go by. My recovery time is four-to-six weeks. My first therapy session is on February 1. So we are going to go from there and work it out.”

It makes every pass he threw in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs a little bit more impressive. Especially the 32-yard touchdown pass on the road in the GHSA Class AAA state semifinals at Benedictine.

Starks ranks as the nation’s No. 3 ATH and the No. 28 overall recruit for the 2022 cycle on the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Did you know the weekly DawgNation.com “Before the Hedges” program is available as an Apple podcast? Click to check it out and download it. 

Check out his impressive junior year below.

Malaki Starks: The weeks where he could not grip a ball at QB

It would seem gripping a ball would be central to a state playoff quarterback’s arsenal. Especially on the pitches and wide tosses and RPOs that Jefferson liked to run.

Starks suffered that injury in the eighth game of the year against Madison County but didn’t let on just how badly he was hurting. He still completed 7 of the 16 passes he attempted for 214 yards, two scores and two interceptions with a modified throwing motion.

“I couldn’t grip the ball for five weeks,” Starks said. “I was pitching it and throwing it a little bit at the same time. When I look back on it, it is kind of crazy. But then again, it is reality. I knew that something was wrong with my hand. But I also knew that my team needed me.”

This story, at a position he will not even play in college, will certainly reflect why Starks is so respected by the players and coaches at Jefferson High and his entire community.

The injury that Malaki Starks dealt with is clearly visible on his hand during the weeks leading up to the GHSA Class AAA state championship game. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

He began to experiment with throws with his left hand in practice. Well, the term “throws” is probably not the correct way to describe it.

“I’d pitch every ball for a week in practice going to the right and going to the left,” he said. “I kind of shot put the rest of them. Then there was a week in practice where I couldn’t grip the ball at all. I just had to figure out a way to still hold it anyway and I did figure something out thankfully.”

His motion, at times, did resemble a shot put.

Starks said he would tell his receivers — even on that big Benedictine TD — that his ball wasn’t going to come out perfect but he’d get it there and would still be catchable.

“So instead of laying down, I decided to step up and do the best I can. I mean I knew there are things that I can go back and do better if my hand wasn’t messed up, but it is the reality there. I took it the way it was and I still tried to do my best.”

Starks still ran for 661 yards and 11 of his 24 touchdowns on the season after that setback, including 321 yards and four scores against that same Benedictine team. He also had his only interception of the year from his safety spot against the Cadets.

That was a pivotal night where an early attempt to strip the ball severely aggravated that injury.

“It happened the first series,” Starks said. “Their player went to go strip the ball and he missed and he pulled on it. That’s when it really hurt. I couldn’t put my glove on. It really hurt.”

He never wore a splint or a brace in a game. If he did, he knew that would likely wind up as a target.

The 5-star junior is not certain about his availability yet for spring practice.

Malaki Starks ranks as the nation’s No. 3 ATH and the No. 28 overall prospect for the 2022 cycle on the 247Sports Composite rankings. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Malaki Starks: His thoughts on the Charlton Warren move

Starks is a 5-star ATH in the 2022 cycle. He’s expected to be a safety in college, but he was the go-to engine for a run-heavy offense for a state finalist team this past season. Jefferson fell to 14-1 for the season after a 30-14 loss in the state championship game to a stout Marist team.

He was named to all the various All-State teams across the state, including a few deserved classification player of the year honors. He had 172 carries for 1,537 (8.9 yards per attempt) for 24 scores in 14 games in 2020.

RELATED: Why 5-star Malaki Starks could be a class anchor for Georgia in 2022

He has established a top three of Alabama, Clemson and Georgia. During the state championship game against Marist, he wore a Clemson toboggan during pregame and then alternated Alabama and Georgia gloves while on the field at safety.

The nearly 6-foot-2 junior was a finalist in the 200 meters last spring with a time of 22.48. He also came up with a triple jump of 43 feet and 11 inches, too.

“Marist had probably the best defense in the state,” Jefferson High coach Gene Cathcart said. “They kept him bottled up and made him have to earn every yard. He had to make plays for us as more of truck out there moving the chains instead of a racecar.”

Georgia should be seen as a very strong contender for his eventual choice. He had grown very close to UGA defensive backs coach Charlton Warren. He told DawgNation that they “clicked” from the first time they met.

“It is special,” he said last summer. “It is unique. I’m a people person, but I don’t know if that’s it. I feel that the bond that we have beyond that is just real there.”

Warren has now moved on to become the new defensive coordinator at Indiana. 

“Um, at first I didn’t get it,” Starks said. “And then I took a step back and just looked at it and I was pretty tight with coach Warren. I know him. He wanted to be a ‘DC’ for a long time which is why he went to Indiana. I was kind of sad to see him go from Georgia.”

“But I knew that him going to Indiana was a good thing for him and his family. He wanted to be a ‘DC’ and he’s getting a chance to prove that he can be one. I’m nothing but happy for him. But I’m excited for him but I’m kinda sad at the same time.”

How does it affect the connection he now has to the Georgia program?

“That’s the good thing with Georgia,” he said. “I kind of talked to a lot of the coaches. For anybody that is looking for advice recruiting-wise, you don’t ever commit to a school for a coach because in college the coaches come and go. But that’s the good thing for Georgia, I just didn’t have a relationship with coach Warren. I have one with the whole staff. So it doesn’t change much.”

He said his best relationship with the Georgia staff now is the one he has with Kirby Smart.

“Coach Smart and I talk a lot,” Starks said. “He knows about me. He knows my family real tight. I’ve talked to coach [Dan] Lanning a lot. He and I have hooked up a couple of times.”

Starks has wisely found three schools where it is highly unlikely to see the likes of Nick Saban, Smart or Dabo Swinney coaching anywhere else for the foreseeable future.

“It is never set,” Starks said. “Coaches can be there for 20 years and then leave or be there for one or two years and leave. Even the head coach. That’s something I picked up early in my recruitment is you never commit to a school just because of a coach. Because of any coach.”

Starks said the recruiting process for him has kind of been stuck somewhere been fast and slow at this time. He really had put it all on pause during the state playoff march for his Jefferson Dragons.

“I’ve hopped on a couple of Zoom calls with Clemson and Georgia,” Starks said. “I’ve watched some practices for Alabama and stuff like that. I talked to the new Notre Dame defensive coordinator the other day. He’s a very wise wan. I like him a lot. He spoke very confidently. So [the recruiting world] is still going for me.”

Malaki Starks has a top three of Alabama, Clemson and Georgia. He’s also been contacted recently by Notre Dame. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

What sort of timetable is Malaki Starks looking at? 

Does he have any idea when he might make a decision? He said back in October that a decision could come for him at any time late in 2020.

“I want to get some more visits in,” he said. “I really do. ‘Whenever I plan on going, I plan on early enrolling. So the best thing would be to have [my decision] before my senior year and everything. But I really want to get some more visits in. I don’t know when that is going to open back up yet.”

He’s decided not to play basketball for Jefferson High this year. He was a starting guard on the 2019-2020 team but has decided to skip hoops this winter to focus on recovery from his surgery.

Starks also plans to run track this spring for the renowned Jefferson High program. With his hand on the mend, he’ll likely just focus on the sprints instead of the triple jump or long jump.

That’s the plan.

“I’ll probably just have to run,” he said. “So I’ll do like the 100, 200, the 4X100 and the 4X400.”

Have you subscribed to the DawgNation YouTube channel yet? If so, you will be able to see special 1-on-1 interviews with Jake Fromm and Brock Vandagriff coming up over the next month. You will only be able to find it on the DawgNation YouTube channel. 

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