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  1. Sports

Rest is rare for Pasco High senior as he pulls double duty

DADE CITY — There's bound to be a day where, finally, Jake Starling just up and gets confused about what sport he's playing.

It has almost happened.

"Sometimes when I'm playing soccer, I'll want to snag the ball out of the air with my hands," said Starling, who also plays basketball.

Even if that were to actually happen, Pasco High soccer coach Barry Grayling would probably give Starling a pass. That's because this, Starling's senior season, is the first time he has played both winter season sports at the same time.

It had been soccer for club only, basketball for the Pirates — and frustration for Grayling.

"I don't get it. He's not even that good at basketball," says Grayling, with only a bit of a grin.

Basketball coach Anthony Webb has a differing take: "He's the one that makes us go. Jake is an integral part of what we do."

Grayling is right in that Starling seems destined to play soccer in college, though he has not chosen a school yet. Polished, speedy and strong, Starling (6-foot-1, 165 pounds) is second on the team in scoring despite missing (so far) four games as he goes with basketball on days where there is a conflict.

"He's such a big help. He's fast, tall. When he's with us, our attack is way more powerful," said longtime friend Esteban Perez, the Pirates' leader in both goals (14) and assists (13) through the first 14 games in which Pasco compiled a 9-2-3 record and first-place district standing.

Monday, which featured Starling leaving basketball practice a little early go get to Springstead in time for a 5-2 soccer victory, marked the first of 10 straight days where he has a game. That includes the prestigious IMG Cup for his Florida Soccer Club side this weekend, and an appearance by the Pirates in a basketball tournament at Hernando High.

Though he does get tired, looking forward to rare rest days — which to no surprise, he spends watching sports ("I really love college football and college basketball") — Starling wouldn't have it any other way.

After all, he has played six sports now for Pasco High School. He's been one of the top performers for the tennis team, was on the football team up until last year when brother Grant was the senior quarterback, and is a solid member of the baseball squad.

When pressed to ranked them, he puts soccer right behind basketball as No. 1.

"I've just always loved the up-and-down action," he said.

As the point guard, Starling averages more than five assists per game and is third in scoring, averaging around 13 a night after hitting double digits in just two games his junior season. The Pirates have lost a couple of close games recently, one in overtime to a very strong Wesley Chapel team, to slip into the middle of the 5A-8 district pack.

But the 4-5 start is a vast improvement over the past two years, both of which saw Pasco finish 9-15. The Pirates were only 3-21 the season before that, but as long as Starling, Jaylin Busby (17-point average) and Michael Penix (14) keep it up, they have a decent chance at the school's first playoff trip since 2008.

In that same period, the soccer squad has reached the playoffs four times, but has not gotten out of the second round. Grayling helmed the team that made the state semis in 2006 and the region final the ensuing season. He sees the same level of talent on the field — assuming Starling is on it.

"Oh yeah. When we're all together, we can hold our own," Grayling said.

Starling, whose father Brad was a football standout at Pasco, also maintains a 3.8 grade-point average and is in the National Honor Society.

Though the decisions have been cut-and-dried, with basketball winning out on days where both teams play, it could get dicey come postseason. District basketball and region soccer will take place during the same week. Hopefully Starling's coaches will remain friends when that time comes.

"It's his last year and he wants to experience it to the fullest," Webb said. "Coaches don't want to share their players. But we're making the best of it."