Commentary

The Bubba plan

Nebraska devised a two-year plan for the two-sport star that covered every little detail

Updated: June 3, 2011, 2:15 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

If you're wondering, Bubba Starling could play quarterback for Nebraska and moonlight as a center fielder in the system of the big league organization that drafts him Monday.

In theory.

Reality is, a club that invests heavily in Starling wouldn't want him to play football. And Nebraska wouldn't be too crazy about the combination, either.

Starling signed with the Huskers, in large part, because they presented the offer that best meshed football and baseball at the collegiate level. It's a difficult task, especially for a quarterback, and restrictions related to the demands of college began even before Starling finished high school.

At the suggestion of Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini, Starling did not pitch as a senior at Gardner Edgerton High School. Pelini advised Starling that his right arm, capable of unleashing a 95-mph fastball, needed the rest.

"I miss it," Starling said, "but at the end, it feels great to have a healthy arm."

[+] EnlargeBubba Starling - Football
Gardner Edgerton HS/Angie PlankBubba Starling's blend of athleticism, arm strength, size and speed have Nebraska coaches dreaming big.
Nebraska coaches promise to minimize limitations on Starling if he picks college over pro baseball this summer. In recruiting him, the Huskers devised a two-year plan that included his schedule for practices and games, offseason training and academics.

And NU used athletic director Tom Osborne to deliver the message during a Starling visit to Lincoln, Neb., in the summer of 2010.

"They had it on poster board -- every day, where Bubba needs to be for football, baseball, everything," said Starling's father, Jimbo Starling. "That's when Bubba looked over at me and said, 'I want to go to school here.'"

Didn't hurt that, at the time of the meeting, Notre Dame -- Starling's other top choice -- had recently fired its baseball coach.

Bad timing, said Jimbo Starling.

Osborne, who coached football for 25 years at Nebraska, told Starling he saw some of former Heisman Trophy-winning Husker Eric Crouch in the young quarterback.

Great for a recruiting visit, but what happens if Starling actually tries to make it work as a two-sport athlete at Nebraska?

A tough assignment, said Khiry Cooper, who has played football and baseball at Nebraska the past three years.

"But he's obviously got the talent," Cooper said. "Continue to do what's been doing, and he's going to be successful."

Cooper offers evidence of the difficulty. A fifth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels out of high school in Shreveport, La., in 2008, Cooper turned down a six-figure offer to attend Nebraska as a wide receiver and outfielder.

Splitting time, his career did not materialize as planned; Cooper has caught 13 passes as a football player, all in 2009, and hit .250, primarily as a reserve outfielder in three years of baseball.

"I'd like to play more consistently," Cooper said, "but it's a blessing to play both sports."

Starling plans to arrive at Nebraska in July and train with the football team. When preseason camp opens in early August, he expects to participate without restrictions.

Baseball super-agent Scott Boras, advising the Starlings on Bubba's contract negotiations, said he'd like to see a decision made in such situations before football practice starts.

"Theoretically," Boras said, "that may or may not work."

Most often, it does not. Case in point: The Dodgers' first-round pick in 2010, Zach Lee, who was recruited to LSU as a quarterback and right-handed pitcher out of McKinney, Texas. After the June draft, Lee heard hardly a word from the Dodgers until one day before the signing deadline in mid-August.

"Negotiating tool," Lee said. "They want to rush you into a decision."

Lee said he figured he'd just go to school in Baton Rouge. On that final day, though, he asked LSU coach Les Miles if he could miss the Tigers' afternoon practice. And with minutes to spare, Lee, drafted 28th overall, reached an agreement with the Dodgers for $5.25 million --- the third-highest bonus among first-round picks.

"I don't regret anything," said Lee, 3-1 with the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League this spring. "I wasn't going to let anything change my mind until I had something on the table that looked better than LSU."

It's no different for Starling. Nebraska looks pretty good in early June.

Starling and his family proudly display Husker shirts and caps at every opportunity. Still, not all has progressed smoothly.

Nebraska baseball coach Mike Anderson, whose staff initiated the school's contact with Starling two years ago, was fired in May. The school introduced his replacement on Thursday, former MLB All-Star Darin Erstad, who, incidentally, played football and baseball at Nebraska.

And Shawn Watson, the Huskers' offensive coordinator who recruited Starling for football, left the program in February. His replacement, Tim Beck, continues to recruit Starling like an unsigned athlete. The quarterback walked away from an April visit in Gardner with Beck thrilled about the offense and Nebraska's plans for Starling in it.

Since that time, Nebraska quarterbacks Kody Spano and Cody Green have left the team. Only two scholarship players remain at the position -- redshirt freshman Brion Carnes and sophomore Taylor Martinez, the returning starter who flashed brilliance last season but struggled with injuries and consistency.

Starling, with a good showing in August, would likely contend for playing time as a true freshman. Marvin Diener, his football coach at Gardner Edgerton High School, would like to see it.

"The proposal that they've laid out, they're very serious about it," Diener said, "and it's a very viable thing for him."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman