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Eric Stokes is poised for a very big year in Athens this fall.

Homegrown: Impressive sophomore CB Eric Stokes is more like “UGA grown”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This original Eric Stokes story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia.  To access other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com. 

Picture Eric Stokes at Florida right now. Or Louisville. Maybe even Ole Miss or West Virginia.

Anywhere but Georgia.

When that happens, the strength of the Bulldog secondary is a lot less sporty.

Stokes signed with Georgia in the class of 2017. He was the 24th highest-rated of the 26 players Georgia signed. That’s what the 247Sports Composite ratings said.

Those had him as a 3-star recruit. It meant he was the nation’s No. 63 cornerback and No. 669 overall prospect. He the No. 65 player in the state of Georgia that cycle.

It made sense. Stokes had a lot more tape at running back than he did at cornerback heading into his senior season. His senior year film helped his cause tremendously.

In a world where 3-stars should be seen as very good players, Stokes has risen well above that.

We might look back at all of that and find there were not 64 better players this decade in Georgia than Stokes. The Eastside High (Covington, Ga.) native will contend for ALL-SEC recognition this fall. His name will also stir up some NFL Draft talk, too.

His recruiting story will drip with some of that fairy tale pixie dust. Especially when adding in the fact he grew up a Florida fan.

He was really a speed demon in high school that was “raw” in every account. Stokes was still trying to figure out his way in football. Stokes had state champion level speed in high school track.

The current redshirt sophomore was a fast guy. Even among the fast guys. Check out this 10.39 speed from his senior spring of high school track.

He was fast with size and length. But could he play football at an SEC level?

Mel Tucker thought so. Kirby Smart thought so. It was just going to take a minute.

Stokes won the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A state titles during his junior year in the 100 (10.48) and 200 meters (21.58) in 2016. He also won the fastest man competition at “The Opening” regional in Atlanta that year.

The common thread in all those showings was a tepid start. Stokes would even describe his form back then out of the blocks as poor.

That now seems like an omen for his time at UGA, too. Not the best out of the blocks. But once he could open up and cut it loose, he certainly did.

It did just take a minute. Both during his recruiting process and when he got to Georgia.

Eric Stokes-Georgia football-UGA football
Eric Stokes really came into his own during his redshirt freshmen season last fall in earning a starting job. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

The climb: Eric Stokes from Eastside to UGA

A few tweets and pictures tell this story the best. According to the 247Sports database, Stokes was one of 23 cornerbacks that Georgia offered in 2017. 

He was the lowest-rated out of all those cornerback offers. No. 23 out of 23. Stokes didn’t even receive his offer from Georgia until November 1 of his senior season.

There will be no one that Georgia signs this year who receives their offer that close to signing day. That feat might not ever happen again at this program.

The long-sought offer finally came three months before he would eventually sign. Not a lot of time. He took a visit for the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 25 of that year.

The Yellow Jackets got Georgia that day, but it still turned out to be a vital trip.

“I came out of that visit feeling great about where I stand with UGA,” Stokes said even after a Bulldog loss. “They really want me there and I could easily see myself there.”

Yet with that, he still wasn’t 100 percent certain.

He still wanted to set up an official visit to both Louisville and Ole Miss. Stokes also wanted to see Georgia on a big official visit weekend, too.

“I’m trying to figure out when would be the perfect time for them,” he said back in November of 2016. “I want to come at the perfect time for them for their officials.”

Georgia was interested at that point, but other schools were still coming after him harder. He felt Iowa State and West Virginia seemed to prioritize him more. Even with the Bulldogs making a big November push.

Stokes also wanted to go on a busy visit weekend. It would assure him that he was not a 3-star in the program’s eyes.

“So I can see how the coaches are treating me since I’m around a lot of other people and I can get used to the other players there,” Stokes also said at that time.

Stokes said during his recruitment that Smart told him that Georgia could prepare him to play on Sundays. He had the speed and athleticism.

They just had to teach him how to be an SEC cornerback. It is not a 12-week course. By any means.

Stokes signed with Georgia as the lowest-rated of the eight defensive backs the Bulldogs brought in with that class.

Richard LeCounte III remains a quality starter with strong NFL upside. He was the highest-rated DB of that 2017 group. The other names from that highly-rated pool DB class like this:

  • 4-star DeAngelo Gibbs (No longer with the program)
  • 4-star Tray Bishop (No longer with the program)
  • 4-star William Poole III (reserve defensive back)
  • 3-star Ameer Speed (reserve defensive back)
  • 3-star Latavious Brini (reserve defensive back)
  • Stokes: 1) Started three games as a redshirt freshman; 2) Overtook a 5-star recruit for playing time; 3) Started the season opener in 2019

It might read like an underdog story. That just might be a slight stretch with a 6-foot-1 cornerback underdog with 10.39 speed in the 100.

But there wasn’t a single DB that Georgia signed that year who had more upside than Stokes.

Eric Stokes-Georgia football-UGA football
Eric Stokes picked off a pass meant for Jeremiah Holloman and returned it for a touchdown at G-Day during his last game in Sanford Stadium. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Eric Stokes: That first year at Georgia

Stokes arrived and went to work. Georgia started to chisel out a cornerback.

It helped that Georgia saw the former high school running back and defensive back as a football player first and foremost. Not as a track guy trying to play football.

“The knock-on 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,” said Troy Hoff, his coach at Eastside. “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.”

Stokes redshirted his freshman season. He also saw 5-star freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell come in and start his first game as a true freshman in 2018.

Campbell was another burner. He was still green at the cornerback spot having only played that position for one season in high school. Yet he was one of the nation’s top 20 recruits for 2018.

That didn’t bother Stokes. It was just what he needed to finally shake off a tepid start here, too.

“The thing about Eric, he never quit working,” Hoff said this summer. “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.”

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Eric Stokes now has all the tools it takes mentally and physically to be a shutdown cornerback in the SEC. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

The coming-out party for Eric Stokes at Georgia

Fans first saw what he could do last season at Missouri. It was all part of that “next man up” culture for every championship-caliber team.

The redshirt freshman had to fill in on the punt return team for an injured Tyler Simmons.

When he did, he surged through the line and blocked that punt. That ball bounded into his grasp and he returned it for a game-changing score.

Campbell then hurt his shoulder in the game. Stokes went in. Campbell would miss the rest of the game with what was termed as an illness.

Stokes recorded four pass breakups against future NFL draft pick Drew Lock and Missouri that afternoon.  Smart summed up what that day meant to Stokes afterward.

“First of all, he’s a great competitor,” Smart said of Stokes that day. “I told the team after the game, ‘here’s a guy who got beat out. He never whined, never cried, never pouted, he just worked. And when you work, you get better.”

“He’s not even a starter on punt return. He didn’t even get to take reps to do that block. He went in because he paid attention to the guy that was in front of him, executed it for Tyler Simmons perfectly and really played well today. It didn’t surprise me because he practices well. I told you he had a really good camp and it paid off for him today.”

What would he tell himself looking back on that year to help him get through that first year on campus? Stokes discussed what he needed to know as a freshman in 2017 late last season

“I would be like you need to stay focused and get all into your playbooks, your assignments and your checks and every little thing,” Stokes said. “There are a lot of little things I would have to learn. This has been a great climb for me so far. My old self still wouldn’t believe what is going on for me right now.”

Stokes is very likable. He has a true sense of self and service to others. It seems he will always be humble and grateful to be where he is now. It is quickly endearing him to the fan base.

He comes across as a composed and thoughtful young man on social media. Then he is already one of the most articulate and fun interviews on the team, too.

He is betting to get a lot of scouting attention, too. College football got a good glimpse of what he can do last season. His redshirt sophomore season should be even better.

When he eventually reaches that Sunday league, the program will be able to point to Stokes as an elite project and maybe not so much an elite prospect who signed with Georgia.

This DawgNation “Homegrown” story will read more like “UGA Grown” in Athens. He can be a poster boy for the staff’s player development and evaluation program.

Jordan Davis, Solomon Kindley, J.R. Reed, Monty Rice and Stokes show the program is built on more than just signing up all the top 4 and 5-star recruits it possibly can.

Eric Stokes-Georgia football-UGA football
Eric Stokes is now one of the top cornerbacks for the Georgia team this fall. He needs to play close to the level that Georgia got from All-American and Jim Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker over the past few seasons. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Georgia’s Homegrown Talent: The DawgNation series