ATHENS — Departing Georgia All-American cornerback Eric Stokes turns 22 on Monday, but he won’t be spending too much time celebrating during the daytime.
Stokes, who has been training in South Florida since Jan. 2, has been working to get his mind right to run what he hopes is a mind-blowing 40-yard dash time at an NFL combine-like workout this week at the House of Athlete in Weston, Fla.
“I’ve just been down here getting used to all of the combine drills,” said Stokes, who plans to join DawgNation for the Ingles on the Beat Show (DawgNation YouTube Page) at the end of his training day at 7:30 p.m. on Monday.
“This has been a lot speed work, core work. You don’t do these types of drills in season.”
This week’s combine event — at the House of Athlete facility founded by former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall — will reportedly be televised, per the Chicago Tribune. The 2021 NFL Combine, of course, has been canceled on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NFL is not allowing in-person workouts.
Stokes said he will also return to Athens for the Bulldogs NFL Pro Day on March 17, where he will perform in other NFL combine drills to cement his stock as a first-round pick.
UGA success story
And to think, less than five years ago Stokes wasn’t even the starting cornerback at Covington’s Eastside High School at the beginning of his senior season.
“Nope, I wasn’t even the starting CB at the beginning of the year until one of our guys got hurt playing against Newton on the kickoff, on the first play,” Stokes said. “That’s when I got thrown into playing corner. That’s when I took off, and it was crazy.”
“Crazy good” is a good way to describe Stokes’ development under Kirby Smart at Georgia after the Bulldogs signed him in 2017 — the lowest rated player in the class at No. 688 nationally
Stokes redshirt in 2017, but he made it clear in 2018 he was ready for a breakout season, taking advantage with strong performances in relief against Missouri and Auburn before seizing the starting job.
“He’s just smart,” Smart said, assessing one of the biggest developmental success stories of his tenure as Georgia’s head coach. “He is really bright. He understands leverage, he understands coverages. You tell him something once and he goes out to practice and does it.
“A lot of the guys need reps and reps; Stokes gets it in the meetings. He’s very bright. He’s very diligent.”
Eric Stokes just has a knack of being around the ball.. that’s now 4 INTs on the year and his draft stock is 📈 pic.twitter.com/PmbmUES64V
— AJ Torres (@ajtorres1230) December 12, 2020
Nothing has changed for Stokes, a Bulldogs fan favorite and one of the most popular figures in the Georgia locker room.
Painful bowl decision
Stokes shared how it pained him not to play in the Bulldogs’ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup with Cincinnati, and how the Covid-19 pandemic had affected his decision.
“Man you don’t understand how badly that hurt to be sitting there watching, wanting so bad to be out there,” Stokes said. “I was in Athens all week, still talking to (Latavious) Brini about the plan. I was so into that game wanting to know everything going on.
“I was sitting there in my living room calling out the plays, like I was playing the game even though I wasn’t there,” Stokes said. “Then, at the end, I was like ‘C’mon Jack (Podlesny) we need this … and he hit it, and I just started running around the living room.”
Stokes shared that had it been a normal bowl trip, he would have traveled with his team and played in the game.
“Of course if it was a playoff game, no matter what, because that’s a moment you would never give up,” Stokes said. “Really, any bowl game is important— but this year was so different.
“We weren’t at the bowl site, it was more like a regular game. If it was a regular bowl season, with a trip with my teammates, I would have played. I would have gone to enjoy the week.”
After celebrating Georgia’s 24-21 win over Cincinnati, Stokes traveled to Florida with a clear mind, ready to begin the preparations that will make his NFL dreams come true.
Stokes is one of three Bulldogs’ players projected by the NFL Draft Bible as a first-round pick, — and NFL.com has him as an early second-round pick.
Stokes, at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, has the size and flexibility NFL teams like, and he has shown he can come up in run support to make the open-field stops as well as provide the sticky sort of coverage needed to matchup with the world’s best receivers.
Eric Stokes when lined up at outside corner this season:
🔒 0 TDs allowed
🔒 4 INTs
🔒 37.1 passer rating pic.twitter.com/bLfRX3jEze
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 26, 2021
Stokes also had two Pick-6 returns this season, and he explained how that didn’t come by accident.
“I didn’t have any picks my whole college career, and that was because the seasons before, I wasn’t really worrying about the ball — it was all about making sure there receiver wasn’t catching it.
“Coming into this season I knew whoever I was guarding wasn’t going to catch it, so I made a big emphasis during the quarantine on catching it, and getting in that routine of making the picks.
Stokes made the one-hour drive home from Athens every Monday and Wednesday to work ball drills with his high school coach, and Tuesdays and Thursdays he was working with his trainer in Atlanta.
“I just knew I was going to be ready,” Stokes said.
And so he is, with an opportunity to showcase his track speed this week, and the Pro Day at UGA on March 17, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft April 29-May 1.
“I’m not going to look that far ahead,” Stokes said. “I know when I hear my name called, it will change my life. But for now I’m going to live in the moment.”
For now, it’s a happy birthday for Eric Stokes.