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Crespi running back Jalen Starks presents a sizable challenge

Encino Crespi's Jalen Starks, strong and agile at 250 pounds, is among Southland running backs who merit attention.

Jalen Starks of Encino Crespi High has the biceps of a heavyweight boxer. They're so thick and intimidating that it is mind-boggling to think his position in football is running back.

His workout partners in the weight room are linemen, and at 6 feet 1 and 240 pounds, with speed, strength and agility, Starks presents a formidable challenge when he has the ball.

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"That guy is tough to tackle, being that big," Coach Troy Thomas said.

After this year's Super Bowl, when the Seattle Seahawks were criticized for attempting a pass instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch near the goal line in a loss to the New England Patriots, Thomas knew what he would have done in the same situation.

"There's no doubt I would have given the ball to Jalen Starks," he said.

Even if teams know what's coming, it's not going to be easy taking down Starks. He has worked in the off-season on improving his balance and getting faster, but he's still prepared to run over people, and it's quite a sight.

"He's very physical," Thomas said. "When he hits guys, they fly away. I've seen guys literally fly in the air."

Strength is one of Starks' biggest assets.

"Strength helps a lot, especially single leg strength, because you have to pump your legs when you're in a crowd of people trying to strip the ball from you, so you're keeping your legs driving at all times," he said.

Starks rushed for 897 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. He was given the ball in an overtime game against Bishop Amat and ended it by running in a two-point conversion. He also has the makings of a devastating blocker, which raises a question: Is he more dangerous with the ball in his hands or when seeking to take out a linebacker with a block?

"I feel if I have the ball I'm more lethal," he said. "It's scary to the other people because they have to try to tackle me instead of avoiding me trying to block them."

As for whether he has any sympathy when a smaller opponent tries to take him down, Starks said, "Oh no. No sympathy."

What's scary is that Starks has begun to understand how good he might be able to become on the field and in the classroom.

"I've discovered the opportunities I could have for myself," he said. "As a freshman and sophomore, I didn't understand that and would mess around."

Thomas said Starks was coasting early in his high school career.

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"He's been bigger and stronger than most kids growing up, and I think he relied on that, and I'm trying to teach him at some point they're going to be as big and as fast as he is," the coach said. "He's starting to apply that in every area of his life."

His commitment to UCLA this summer helped him realize what's possible if he continues to pay attention to the important details required to keep moving forward.

Raised primarily by his mother, Starks takes a bus to Crespi from his home in the eastern San Fernando Valley. He puts on his headphones, listens to music and thinks about his education, football and the tasks at hand.

It's a peaceful interlude for a teenager with big dreams and big plans for the future.

Twitter: LATSondheimer

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