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Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation

One of the many benefits of participating in the Stewards of the Wild (SOTW) program is that you never know just who you will cross paths with at any given event. The program, now in its second decade, continues to attract a wide array of conservation-minded individuals from all walks of life, including former NFL football player, James Starks, who recently joined the Austin Chapter and went on his first mentored hunt.

Texas is a long way from James’ hometown of Niagara Falls, New York, where he and his six siblings were born and raised. Niagara Falls was also where Starks first discovered his love of football at age 12 and realized his potential and promise on the playing field. After high school, he earned a scholarship to the local University of Buffalo (UB), where his stock rose as a running back for the UB Bulls while he also worked toward his undergraduate degree in sociology. With multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 40 touchdowns over his college career, Starks was chosen in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. His rookie year with the Packers was the same year the team went on to win Super Bowl XLV, and Starks played for the Green Bay Packers for the duration of his 7-year NFL career.

When he retired from the NFL after the 2016 season, he jumped from the center stage of the most competitive league in the world to one of the most competitive real estate markets in the U.S.—Austin, Texas. But, as with his NFL career, he had a plan of attack for his next career. While still in the NFL, James pursued his Master’s in Construction Management with a concentration in Project Management from Drexel University, earning his Master’s in 2018. He then earned his certificate in Green and Sustainable Building from Drexel in 2019, and he is currently pursuing his second Master’s in Architecture from Arizona State University. Several years ago, he founded Starks Sustainable Renovations, LLC, where he buys, renovates, and sells/rents homes, with the ultimate goal of adding homebuilding to his portfolio on the horizon.

While Starks has been busy building his company, he was able to break away from work last October to enjoy his very first SOTW event, a mentored 3-day, 2-night hunt for white-tailed deer and hog near La Pryor in Zavala County. “My girlfriend’s sister told me about the drawing, so I joined SOTW and ended up winning the drawing. The hunt took place on my birthday weekend, and it turned out to be a great experience that I would definitely do it again,” said Starks.

James harvested one white-tailed doe the very first morning, and he broke down the animal with his mentor. His long-time girlfriend, Icee, who was born and raised in Texas, turned out to be a natural at the sport, harvesting one doe and two javelinas!  “The bonfire, the food, everything about the event was amazing. We didn’t just hunt, we learned about the delicate balance of Texas ecosystems. It was interesting to hear the experts speak on how too much or too little of one species can affect the entire web of life, and how strategic hunting practices can complement conservation efforts,” said James.

We hope this is just the first of many SOTW events James and Icee will be able to attend. After all, there’s so much more of Texas to explore, and James couldn’t agree more. “My hometown of Niagara Falls is a lot different than Texas,” said James. “The wide-open spaces and the different landscapes…I think I could spend a few years exploring Texas before seeing the whole of it.”