MORGANTOWN - He had become almost an afterthought, sort of a luxury that, were it ever to become available, would be both surprising and pleasantly welcomed.
Saturday afternoon, Bradley Starks finally emerged as both.
On a day when everything else pretty much followed script - West Virginia was supposed to pummel UNLV and easily did so - perhaps the biggest contributor was a shocking one. Starks caught four passes, turned them into 100 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Mountaineers to their 49-10 rout of the Rebels.
That Starks can play the game should come as little surprise. After all, he caught 29 passes for 405 yards last season. The year before that, he had 17 catches and finished the year with a highlight reel grab for a touchdown from Pat White in a win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
But he has also spent more time in the training room than on the field, too. While he managed to play in all four previous games this season, his noteworthy contributions were nil. He had not caught a single pass or gained a yard.
"Yeah, but he's one of the biggest [skill position players] and fastest on the team,'' coach Bill Stewart said. "I just wish we could get him healthy all year.''
Especially if this is the result.
Starks caught a wide-open 38-yard touchdown on the game's third play, fought a defender for a 48-yard score just before halftime and then worked himself open to catch a 2-yarder when quarterback Geno Smith had to scramble early in the third quarter.
Yes, there were other reasons West Virginia (4-1) handled UNLV (1-5) with almost comic ease, including Noel Devine's three rushes for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Smith completed 12-of-16 passes for 220 yards and the three scores. The Mountaineers rolled up 445 total yards despite substituting freely. And the defense managed three sacks, two interceptions (both by Keith Tandy) and held the Rebels to 276 yards. The score was 35-0 at halftime and the game ended as easily the most lopsided rout in Stewart's 21/2 years.
But none of that was surprising or, quite frankly, terribly noteworthy. Starks' performance was.
"He's pretty much a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams,'' said Smith. "Add in Jock [Sanders] and Noel and Tavon [Austin] and everyone else and that's a good mix to have.''