PROVO — James Lark is doing everything he can to play quarterback at BYU.
It’s his lifelong dream and he's kept the fire burning despite taking a break for a two-year LDS mission to Russia out of Pine View High in St. George, Utah.
He's kept his sights on this target even though the clear starter is highly touted sophomore Jake Heaps.
It’s a work that can be discouraging and tough. A guy could give up, get frustrated, and let it eat him from the inside out. Not starting can get in a player's head as it stirs things up among friends and family who'd like to see him have more opportunities.
It's even tougher to improve when a player doesn't get very many reps, which has been the case every year Lark has been at BYU. He is now a junior.
It could drive weaker men crazy.
Lark has dealt with that demon and kept the blinders on. He is focused on the task at hand, so if the moment comes someday when BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman calls Lark's number, he can answer.
Lark is in the best shape of his life. He's throwing the ball with more authority and velocity. He can run faster and lift more weights than at any time in his young life. He is easily BYU's strongest quarterback, and some records indicate he may be the strongest ever.
That's an admirable trait in a back-up — or starter — at any position, at any school or sport.
The good news is Lark's work ethic is paying off in BYU's fall camp. As a back-up, he has looked the part of a starter in moving BYU's offense and is pushing No. 2 Riley Nelson. Some say Lark has made a case to be No. 2 after he engineered impressive drives and threw a TD strike on Tuesday.
A year ago, Lark was just off a mission and was focusing primarily on his footwork. This past year he reworked his football grip and retooled his throwing motion.
"It's a night-and-day difference right now," said Lark, who scrutinized film from his sophomore season and broke down his throwing mechanics and what he was doing wrong.
Lark turned to his former high school coach Ray Hosner this summer and Hosner rebuilt Lark's throwing motion and grip. The work took place in St. George and Provo.
"The way I was gripping the ball (and) where my elbow was below my shoulder when I threw the ball (it) took a lot of velocity off the ball," he said. "All the velocity was coming from just my arm strength and he helped me to help me use my core to get more on the ball. It's worked."
Lark said his confidence has soared.
A year ago he tried to be confident, but he didn't have chances to feed it because Heaps and Nelson took practically all the reps in a two-quarterback spring and summer. Plus, he was fighting issues from taking two years off for church work.
"The way I'm throwing the ball now, I feel very good," he said. "I've had a few drives and I've felt I've done what I needed to do."
Lark said his personal goal every year is to be the first-string quarterback: "Granted, it may not happen, but that's what I have to think to make it work and get where I need to go," he said.
"I don't prepare like a third-string or a second-string, I prepare to be the starter because at any moment that could be you and you have to be ready," he said. "Your teammates expect you to come in and be ready to start."
Lark praised BYU's coaches for position-specific training in the offseason.
"I'm in the best shape of my life because of what I've done: a lot of cardio, a lot of things in the weight room," he said. "I feel healthier, fresher and better athletically than ever before."
On the first day of drills last Saturday, Lark finished first among quarterbacks in a grueling 850-yard run that was broke down in intervals of 25, 50, 75, 100, 110, 120 and 110 yards. The goal was to sprint that length in 2 minutes, 40 seconds, and Lark did it in 2:37.
Lark loves BYU's offense under Doman.
"It's the kind of offense every quarterback dreams of," Lark said. "It is not predictable as it's been to a defense like it's been the past few years, which has been a disadvantage for our offense.
"This year we line up in sets and formation in which we can run our entire offense off one set and the defense has no idea what is coming with pass and play action. For a quarterback, it make it a lot easier."
On the first day of pads Wednesday, BYU's offense had one formation and ran everything it had out of it, resulting in a very impressive set of scores and big plays.
"It was really nice," said Lark.
"The concepts aren't that different from what we've done in the past, it's just changing up the look," he said. "It makes it harder for the defense to to know pre-snap what we're doing."
On a personal note, Lark is in the eighth month of married life while going his second year of post-mission life.
"It's the best eight months of my life, and it's nice to have a companion of my choice," he said.