Starks following father to NFL
Former Florida offensive lineman Max Starks is the son of Ross Browner, who played nine seasons in the NFL.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As is the case with thoroughbred horses, strong bloodlines are a big positive in the NFL, and perhaps no one in league history has ever had more pro football corpuscles coursing through his veins than Max Starks.
Observations from two college scouts, one from each conference, on Saturday:
-- Len Pasquarelli
It wasn't until 1999 that Elleanor Starks revealed to her son that his biological father was Ross Browner, who played defensive end in the NFL for nine seasons, who claimed the Lombardi Trophy and the Outland Trophy during a stellar college career at Notre Dame, and who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. The revelation from mother to son, which followed a Valentine's Day call from Elleanor Starks to Ross Browner in 1999 to tell him that he had a son he never even knew existed, presented Max with a bevy of new and famous relatives.
But as much as he covets the time he now spends with his biological father -- his adoptive dad, Max III, died a few years ago -- Starks would like to make a name for himself. And in that regard, certainly, he is off to a solid start. Perhaps not a first-round selection, but clearly projected as a first-day choice, Starks has garnered attention for many reasons.
On the field, Starks has started at both guard and both tackles spots, but his long arms and quick feet should make him a left tackle candidate. At 6-feet-7 and 350 pounds, he might be a bit soft and will probably need to shed some baby fat, but has the vertical dimension every offensive line coach covets. Starks might need a fire lit under him sometimes but, that said, his overall work ethic has never been considered a negative.
Away from football, Starks has had great success as well, sort of a Renaissance Man on the UF campus. A legitimate student-athlete, he's posted fine grades, and was a member of the student government his first two years in school. He also has real-world business experience, having helped to operate Starks Funeral Home, a legendary burial parlor in Orlando, Fla., one that's been around for 70 years.
When his adoptive father died, Elleanor Starks continued to operate the funeral home, but just recently sold it. The new owners retained the name and Max, not yet licensed as a practicing mortician, continues to work part-time when available. His longtime nickname, "The Undertaker," he insisted, relates not only to his duties at the funeral home but also to his ability to bury opposition defensive linemen. There is some chance, no matter when he is drafted, that Starks, looking down the road to his post-football career, will pursue a mortician's license.
Asked about his strangest moment working in the funeral business, Starks smiled, then acknowledged he would probably get into trouble if he told the whole tale. Said Starks: "Let's just say it involved me picking up a body and it involved a train wreck. And don't even try to pursue any more of it, because that's as far as I can go with it."
He will also continue to pursue, of course, a relationship with his biological father and the rest of the talented Browner clan. Browner, who played much of his career in Cincinnati and resides in Atlanta, now pays plenty of attention to his son's career and even offers the occasional tip. "But he's good enough," said Browner, "that he doesn't need me out there giving him pointers. I think he's a very good player."
Browner dated Elleanor for nearly two years but the couple split shortly after she became pregnant and he never knew they had conceived a child. Now the two are very cordial and Elleanor is glad she placed the call to Browner in 1999, a few days before she told Max the truth about his biological father.
"It's great having two families," Max Starks said. "I cherish them both. I guess maybe the only downside is all the tickets I'm going to have to buy for NFL games."
Around the combine
Tatum Bell, RB, Oklahoma State: Sometimes overshadowed by tailbacks with higher profiles, Tatum Bell of Oklahoma State stepped up nicely on Saturday, blistering the 40 in a time of 4.37 and generally doing more than enough to catch scouts' attention. Bell might well be the most explosive back in the entire draft. He has nice enough size but will have to run tougher inside and also get his pad level down. Right now, he's a tad too upright and stiff. He catches the ball well, though, is a willing blocker and can run away from defenders if he hits air in the secondary.
Claude Harriott, DE, Pittsburgh: A year ago, scouts were touting University of Pittsburgh defensive end Claude Harriott as a possible first-rounder. But his stats fell off precipitously in 2003 and he ended up splitting playing time toward the end of a disappointing campaign. Harriott isn't very stout, doesn't hold up well against the run and seems to have lost much of his initial explosiveness.
The last word
"Yeah, I could have blocked him. Maybe not that often, you know, but I could have blocked him. I would have finessed him out of the play instead of just using my strength against him. Let him use his speed and then ridden him away (from the quarterback)." -- University of Florida offensive tackle Max Starks on how he would have blocked his father, former NFL defensive lineman Ross Browner
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.