I used * for focusing at weddings, but with sports the action is often too fast. Use the shutter button for focus & exposure but use EC to manage backlit or tight in camera cropped subjects where jersey colour might throw off exposure.
I shoot sports with a 400 2.8 and only use back button focus, generally wide open.
I shoot pro sports and generally everyone out there is using back button focus. I don't know what you mean by the sports action is too fast for it. It doesn't seem to be a problem in the NFL, NBA, MLB or MLS.
All manual exposure
back button focus
Generally keep aperture between f/2.8-3.5
Generally keep shutter speed over 1/1250th, but over 1/800th will work
ISO wheever it needs to be
When you have a somewhat static or predictable subject using the * button to focus while using the shutter only to release the shutter is an easy task with a little practice.
With a little more practice you can take your sports shooting to the next level by using it at a game on athletes. It will become a reflex.
I'm probably going to get blasted for this, but I would never recommend that a newbie use manual for exposure. I always recommend AV. Sure AV may cause some of the shots to be improperly exposed, but with manual a newbie could cause ALL of her shots to be improperly exposed.
I like having a very consistent take. An automatic setting like Av can get fooled by the background, the jerseys, etc. If I am under lights or inside I always use manual. If you have clouds changing the exposure +/- 1 or 2 stops, Av may work better until you get used to changing the shutter speed or aperture quickly.