I know if Riley goes down, I'm the quarterback. If it's good for the team, it's good for me. We need to use all our players to the best of their abilities. —James Lark
PROVO — Good for James Lark.
He's waited for his day in the sun a very long time. His career as a college quarterback has remained in the shadows, the background, a mystery and question mark of what could have been. It still is. But Saturday he got a taste.
In a symbolic role, representative of BYU's early substitution in an expected domination of Weber State, Lark got significant quality playing time in the Cougars' 45-13 win.
"It was fun, a lot of fun," said Lark, who admitted after he threw a TD pass, he didn't know what to do immediately after his TD pass. "What do I do?" he asked himself. He made his way to the offensive linemen, slapped backs and traded high fives and then on the sidelines he found the seniors he'd toiled with all these years. They congratulated him.
Lark, you may remember, was once the darling all-state quarterback and safety for Pine View High in St. George. Scout.com ranked him the No. 16 high school quarterback in the country his senior year, 2006. Rivals.com ranked him No. 25. BYU signed him over Logan High All-American, record-setting Riley Nelson, also in the class of 2006.
Lark thought he'd died and gone to heaven, signing with his lifetime favorite team, BYU. He had offers from Arizona State, Oregon and Utah. He eagerly enrolled and learned behind John Beck, dreams dancing in his head.
Little did he know that day he signed, it would get real tough for Lark.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride, ever since my freshman year," Lark said of his career.
"It's an up right now, I'm in a good place whether I played today. I love my teammates and I'm excited."
After Lark's first year at BYU, he went on an LDS mission to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2007. Right after he arrived, he got word his girlfriend back in Utah, a track athlete at BYU whom he'd known in high school, Chelsi Petersen, was killed in an automobile accident in Provo Canyon.
Lark was just a couple of months in the field at a zone conference when his mission president took him aside and told him BYU signed his huge high school rival, Riley Nelson.
"It was frustrating. It shocked me. I was a little immature missionary and had a lot more to worry about. I was going through a hard time at that time anyway. But then I realized Riley is a great guy, a great person.
Things happen for a reason and I got over it."
When he got back from his mission, Lark had hope, faith and he'd done his charity.
What he didn't know is more charity would be asked of him — to be a career backup.
Lark welcomed the chance to play with Nelson, whom he considered a stud athlete and player. He married the beautiful Rachel, now a graduate and registered nurse.
Lark is a great lesson in how to handle adversity and challenge, in life and on the field.
He worked hard, he changed his throwing motion, got stronger. In fact, he broke BYU records for weightlifting by Cougar quarterbacks. Still, he wasn't on the radar to start because Nelson began a battle to compete with highly hyped Jake Heaps. The two shared playing time before Heaps departing for Kansas this past winter.
Swallowing whatever bitterness he may have had, Lark has never complained or griped in the media about his playing time or lack of a crack at beating out Nelson or Heaps. Lark donned cloak as a good soldier. He worked, he sweated, gave everything he had this final summer heading to his senior year.
Still, in the first game, he stood on the sidelines of a blowout while freshman Taysom Hill got designed red-zone work.
Lark was OK with that.
"No bitter, it was all sweet," said Lark. "Taysom is such a good kid, a great athlete on the rise and will be a great football player. That (finishing drives) is what he does best. He can be a great wildcat quarterback. If it makes our team better, it makes me happy. I wasn't upset. I know if Riley goes down, I'm the quarterback. If it's good for the team, it's good for me. We need to use all our players to the best of their abilities."
Wow. He could write the book on being a teammate, owning citizenship in a football squad.
So that's why Lark's 27 or so plays on Saturday against the Wildcats meant something.
It means something that on Monday when the quarterbacks watch film, he'll be smack dab in the middle of it.
It means something because every team needs a James Lark.
It may not seem like a lot to some, but as I watched the kid complete his first three passes and throw a touchdown pass, it brought a smile to my face. It was a big deal.
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He went 7 of 10 and threw a third-quarter touchdown to tight end Kaneakua Friel on a backside read off play action. It was perfect. "We've done it a thousand times in practice." His pass efficiency was 140.8.
Nelson, once a rival, is his best friend on the team; a deep friendship forged by shared experiences over time.
"We saw what I expected to see from James Lark; nice efficient quarterback play," Nelson said.
Of Nelson, Lark says he is one of three people he turns to when he needs help in life, the others are his wife and his father, Cliff.
Lark's loyalty to BYU football is no foolish lark.