Nathan Starks is one of the most highly recruited high school football players in the country -- but he couldn't get on the field for Cherry Creek High School, coached by ex-NFL pro and voice of the Broncos Dave Logan, because he'd been ruled ineligible by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA). That changed this week, after assorted challenges and an arbitration hearing at which the acclaimed running back was represented by attorney Dan Caplis. With Starks set to debut for Creek at a game this afternoon, Caplis explains below how the way was finally cleared.
Starks is from Las Vegas and had previously played for Bishop Gorman, a high school in the city with a powerhouse football program -- and he quickly made a name for himself on a national level. While he excelled as a running back for the squad, he's listed on Scout.com website as the eighth most coveted safety in the country. Colleges said to be interested in him include Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Arizona, Duke, UCLA and Utah.
Here's a video featuring some of his accomplishments during the 2012 season, when he was a junior.
This past spring, however, obstacles popped up along Starks's route to stardom at a major university, as Caplis explains.
"Nathan is a truly outstanding young man," says Caplis, well known for his long run as an afternoon talk-radio host on KHOW; he got involved in the case because his son, a Cherry Creek student, is friends with Starks. "And in three years at Bishop Gorman, a very good, very strict Catholic high school, he had no disciplinary issues whatsoever, and no contact with law enforcement other than a couple of traffic tickets. He's a good kid and was a leader in the school."
Then, however, Caplis says Starks experienced "the one bad week in his whole career -- he violated a couple of school rules. We're not talking about the details of that, but there was no law enforcement involvement and nobody got hurt."
Nonetheless, Starks was told "you're done here -- you're out," Caplis continues.
This edict was subsequently reversed by the Bishop Gorman principal, who'd been out of town when the original decision was made. According to Caplis, "Nathan was allowed to finish the school year from home. He came back to school for finals and was allowed to visit coaches. And he was invited to reapply at Bishop Gorman for his senior year and got strong feedback that he'd be readmitted."
Before he could apply, however, Nathan's mom, Korey Knotts, decided to move out of Nevada. The decision wasn't football-related, Caplis emphasizes: "She lost her job in December, causing financial hardship, and the family was going through a divorce -- and she'd notified the school back in January that they might have to relocate."
In the end, after considering Santa Barbara, California and West Virginia, Knotts decided to move with Nathan and her twelve-year-old son, Noah, to Colorado, where she has numerous relatives. After consulting with Knotts, her kin suggested that she make her new home in the Cherry Creek. Caplis says the recommendation had nothing to do with Nathan and the prospect of him playing for Logan, who nurtured multiple major-college recruits when he coached at a previous school, Mullen. Rather, he maintains that the choice of Cherry Creek was dictated by Knotts's interest in finding a quality school system for Noah.
Nonetheless, CHSAA commissioner Paul Angelico subsequently determined that the move was athletically motivated and ruled Starks ineligible to play at Cherry Creek for his senior season.
Was this decision prompted by potential red flags in this scenario? After all, Logan came to Cherry Creek after being fired at Mullen due to alleged recruiting violations by members of his staff. And Cherry Creek, one of the more expensive parts of the metro area in which to live, wouldn't seem the natural choice for Knotts due to her financial situation.
Not so, Caplis allows. "Even CHSAA isn't claiming any kind of issue involving Dave Logan or Cherry Creek," he says -- and he adds that the part of the Cherry Creek district in which Knotts settled is very affordable. (She's currently working in real estate, with a weekend job at Target.) He also attacks any athletic-motivation claims by noting that other high schools in Nevada and around the country invited Starks to play for them, but his family couldn't afford to move anywhere other than Colorado. "If this was about football, why would they go to the one place where he was ruled ineligible?" Caplis asks.
Why the ruling, then? In Caplis's opinion, Angelico, who hasn't publicly spoken about the outcome of the case, was doing a solid for an official with the Nevada high-school athletic organization who contacted him about Starks and inaccurately said he'd been expelled from Bishop Gorman. The attorney adds his view that Angelico didn't reverse field because he'd already told the Denver Post he'd ruled Starks ineligible.
In early September, after Starks had already missed one game with Cherry Creek, Caplis got involved, going before the CHSAA appeals committee. More court filings and legal wranglings followed prior to a CHSAA board meeting on October 2, after Creek's fifth game of the season.
The board unanimously rejected Caplis's request that Nathan be allowed to play -- an action that allowed the family to take part in an arbitration hearing earlier this week. At it, Caplis says, "CHSAA stunningly gets up and announces, 'We're dropping the athletically motivated move thing. Now we're going to make a new argument why Nathan's ineligible.'" But the judge rejected this approach, detailed in documents below, and ruled that Starks should properly have only been suspended for two games -- and since he'd already missed six by this point, he can play the rest of the season.
Today at 4 p.m., Cherry Creek faces off against Smoky Hill at the Stutler Bowl, and Starks, who's been regularly practicing with his team, is expected to see his first on-field action. That's great news for Caplis, who's yet to see Starks play. But for him, the case isn't over. He plans to lobby the state legislature to change the procedure that prevents a student from moving straight to arbitration rather than going through a series of administrative steps that cost Starks several more games -- "and I'd also like CHSAA to pay the costs if the kids win."
Look below to see Starks's arbitration award and an arbitration brief.
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More from our Sports archive circa January 2012: "Meet ten Mullen grads recruited by major colleges in Dave Logan era."