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Football: New Nico – Chico back outrunning past demons

By Austin Jackson | Published Wednesday, September 12, 2018
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Thunderous Start

THUNDEROUS START – Chico running back Nico Starnes has racked up over 473 yards and eight touchdowns in two games. The senior had 303 yards and five touchdowns on just 13 carries against Petrolia in week one. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Nico Starnes is outrunning everyone these days.

The Petrolia defense had their angles – and he blew by them. Electra had him squared up behind the line, but it didn’t matter.

Chico’s home-run-hitter broke ankles and blazed into the end zone, untouched.

“I don’t see the point in running over people,” Starnes said. “I can just run around them. It’s pointless to make contact when I can just score.”

Part of this new Chico football team, which has dominated its first two games of the season, is the rise of new Nico. The Dragons are off to a 2-0 start, beating opponents by a combined 96-43.

The numbers simply don’t lie.

Starnes put up 303 yards and five touchdowns on just 13 carries against Petrolia and followed that performance with four touchdowns and 190 total yards last Friday against Electra.

His effort in the weight room and in practice has been the biggest change, said Chico coach Clay Sanders.

Unlike in years past, Starnes is outrunning his personal demons this season.

“The switch has flipped,” Sanders said. “He has always had God given talent. Pure speed. Now, he’s one of the first in the weight room and the last off the practice field. Whatever it was [that changed], I’m thankful for it.”

Before this season, Nico often missed practice and was absent from the weight room.

He would walk off the practice field. He would quit. Some days he wouldn’t even show up.

Starnes had all the skills. He was the fastest player on the field – and the only person who could drag him down from behind was Nico.

“If I could sum [Starnes] up in one word, it would be speed,” Sanders said. “He was born with an unbelievable, very rare gift of speed. I’ve never said this in eight years, but he’s the fastest kid I’ve ever coached in my life.”

In his senior season, Starnes has emerged as one of the leaders on a Chico team that has completely bought in from top to bottom, according to Sanders.

You can see it in the weight room, as the running back squats more and more weight each week. He’s already added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and hopes to add more.

On Friday nights, the Dragon faithful can see it, as Nico hits the second level with elite track speed, scampering for touchdown after touchdown.

“We’ve changed a lot. I didn’t expect it to be this quick,” Starnes said. “Freshman year all the way up to junior year, we always kind of slacked off in the weight room and didn’t really work hard. This year, with the new coaches coming in, we came up here motivated. I’ve never seen a team work as hard as this one.”

So far, so good for Chico.

Against Petrolia, Chico’s offensive line racked up 23 pancake blocks. Fellow Chico senior Gabriel Byrne said he’s blocking for what seems like a completely different player.

“Freshman year to last year, he would just do his own thing,” Byrne said. “Ever since [the new staff came in], he’s completely changed. He’s here every day. I think his squat has gone up 200 pounds. He’s insane now.”

And the scary part, Sanders said, is that Starnes hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential.

“Oh, he’s got tons more – tons more,” Sanders said. “I think more than anything, it’s his confidence. He started gaining confidence. I think that especially here in Chico, life’s already kind of hit our kids pretty hard. Maybe they don’t have the perfect home lives, but they’re starting to understand they have a family here, too. They have a family that they have committed to them here. It’s great to see that pay off.”

With his Dragon family at his side, Starnes he said he’s working toward taking his game to the next level. He wants 2,000 yards and a title run.

After Chico, he wants to take his game to college.

For now, Starnes’ focus is on the team. When he looks back at his 300-yard game against Petrolia, Starnes sees mistakes that can be corrected and tweaks to be made.

He and his teammates could’ve been better, he said and should have put up 70 points against Petrolia.

“We’ve been working all four quarters since March,” Starnes said. “This team is motivated. It starts every morning.”

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