How fast is UGA cornerback Eric Stokes? If the NCAA had a 100-meter race for college football players, Stokes would likely finish in the top 10.
And when most folks truly realize Stokes’ velocity, they forget about his size: He stands 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, which is above-average measurements for a corner (the average NFL corner is 5-11).
“At his height, weight and size, there’s only a few guys in the country that can run like that,” said Troy Hoff, who coached Stokes at Eastside High School in Covington, Ga. “If you compound that with the competitor that he is …”
Eric Stokes: The ‘run-it-again’ guy
More on that later, but back to that blazing speed: How fast is Stokes? His coach shared a funny story: “When he was a junior and going to camps, he was the ‘run it again guy.’ The college coaches would look at their watches and they wouldn’t believe it. Then Eric would do it 2-3 more times with a 4.3 or whatever.
“On the field, he’s the fastest kid I’ve ever been around. Yes, he’s fast on the track. Yes, he’s fast on the football field. He did some things on the field, moving in full pads, that I don’t know if I will ever see again. Just the ground he could cover was impressive.”
Ironically, and in a weird sort of way, Stokes’ speed may have hurt him with football recruiting out of high school. Because he was so fast, Stokes ran track and won state championships in the 100 meters and 200 meters as a junior – and he still holds the Eastside school record in the 100 at 10.39 seconds.
For some, that sprinting success created a narrative that Stokes was a track athlete playing football, when football was always in his heart.
Eric Stokes: From RB to DB
The fleet-footed Stokes was also overlooked early because he didn’t become a full-time cornerback until the spring of his junior year at Eastside, moving over from running back.
“The knock of Eric in recruiting, if there was one, is that the college scouts didn’t have enough film on him at corner, and that he was raw,” Hoff recalled. “But he had size and could move – not just in the 40, but also his speed in changing directions. And he was a football player. That was a big thing that colleges needed to figure out, and Georgia had it pegged from the beginning.
“I give (former UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker) a lot of credit. They knew he was a football player that was pretty good at track. It wasn’t a track athlete who was playing football.
Despite the rare combination of talent, it took Stokes nearly two full seasons to crack into UGA’s starting lineup. He finally broke through towards the end of the 2018 season, starting – and starring – in three out of the last four games. Heading into this season, Stokes is suddenly considered one of the cornerstones of the entire defense for the Bulldogs.
“The thing about Eric, he never quit working,” Hoff said. “He battled for the position all the way through fall camp (last summer), and put himself in a position to compete. He didn’t win the job initially, but kept at it. He had his role on special teams, and got some snaps here and there.
“The biggest thing I can say about Eric is that he’s a competitor. He knew that once he got an opportunity, he was going to be ready for it and make the most of it. And that’s what happened.”
Eric Stokes: A different view of the world this spring
Did Stokes ever get down about not being named a starter earlier in the 2018 season?
“I don’t know if he got down,” Hoff said. “Maybe there was some frustration — when you’re a competitor like that and you feel like you can help the team. You know, everybody wants to play, especially when you’re in that situation and it’s right in front of you.
“I know he really wanted it to happen. He just had to stay patient, and keep going to work every day. I give him credit. He stayed at it, and it worked out for him. He didn’t go in a hole, and not compete at practice. He was ready when he got opportunities.”
This past spring, Stokes sprinted through drills as the No. 1 cornerback. It was a totally different view of the field for a young man who had been running with the backups during the previous two springs.
“He had a really good spring,” Hoff said. “It was different for Eric because he was the guy out there with the first group all the time, so the mindset changes for chasing other people to … you’re the guy.
“You see that confidence, and he knows exactly what he should be doing. There’s no question about knowledge of the defense, assignment, the communication with the linebackers on coverages, etc. He’s locked in and knows what he needs to do. He’s at that comfort level of playing defense to where you’re not thinking about it – you can just react and play.”
Stokes, dubbed the “next Deandre Baker” by some, is quickly (very, very quickly) on the way to making a name for himself on Georgia’s defense.