After being on the scout team all of last year, sophomore wide receiver Rory Starkey, Jr. is taking the Ivy League by storm with a breakout 2019 season. Last year, with an upperclassman-heavy wide receiver roster, Starkey was unable to see any playing time. However, over the course of the spring and summer, he trained with the goal of becoming a starter in his sophomore season.
In the spring, he focused on understanding the playbook and proving to the coaching staff that he would be ready to play come fall. Over the summer, Starkey trained for a month with current and former NFL players — including Mark Ingram and Anquan Boldin — in Boca Raton, Fla. Starkey attributes his summer mental and physical development to their workouts together.
Even after suffering an early-season injury that prevented him from playing in the season opener against Delaware, Starkey immediately contributed to the Penn offense in the second game of the season.
“Last year, on scout team, [Starkey] and Ryan Cragun were down there, and they did a great job,” coach Ray Priore said. “It’s different in practice when you’re working off of a card, as opposed to really now understanding the intricacies of an offense. He’s taken that transition up.”
Second on the team in receiving yards with 498, Starkey has made a name for himself this year on offense. In his Penn debut against Lafayette, Starkey hauled in a 53-yard reception. Two weeks later, he had the best game of his collegiate career, totaling eight receptions and 129 yards against Sacred Heart. Since that contest, Starkey has caught at least five passes per game, and his lowest receiving total in a game in that span is 49 yards.
Of course, the relationship between a quarterback and his wideouts can make or break a team’s performance. Fortunately, senior Nick Robinson and Starkey have a connection.
“Starkey does a great job of positioning himself and getting open and making strong catches. That’s extremely helpful from a quarterback’s standpoint,” Robinson said. “He’s a physical guy, too; he’s tough.”
Starkey’s off-the-field relationship with Robinson helps their on-field chemistry as well.
“This year, coming in, [Robinson and I are] both new starters, so we had to build that connection,” Starkey said. “Outside of the field, we joke around a lot and mess around with each other. On the field, that translates. He knows how I operate; I know how he operates.”
Robinson also credits Starkey's willingness to learn as a key to his success at Penn.
“Starkey is a big reader outside of football, so I think that translates pretty well on the field,” Robinson said. “He knows what he’s doing; he’s a smart guy.”
In addition to Robinson, Starkey attributes his success to Penn’s new offensive coordinator, Kevin Morris.
“[Morris] brought a new energy, a new culture to the offense, and that’s manifesting itself to how we’re playing this year. I think that next year is going to be even more obvious to how our offense has developed,” Starkey said. “I think coach Morris has done a great job of using the talent of his players and building confidence in all of us and allowing us to play how we play.”
Priore echoed Starkey’s sentiment about Morris bringing out the best in Starkey and the other receivers.
“When they’re out here practicing, [Starkey] and Ryan [Cragun] and all the wide receivers have a really good feel for each other. I think it starts with the plan their offensive staff does,” Priore said.
With two games left in the season, Starkey can continue to make his mark on the program this year, as he has room to grow and become even more of a threat.