Northeast had always been a power-running program, but with Je'Ron Stokes, who is already listed as a Scout.com four-star recruit, at receiver, and his younger brother Malik starting under center, head coach Mel Hinton had to open up the offense a little this fall.
School records quickly fell.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Stokes had 27 receptions for a school-record 650 yards (24.1 avg.) and seven touchdowns. The previous record was around 440 yards, and Stokes broke that in the season's first six games. His numbers would've been higher, but Stokes missed the final regular season game of the year, and the first two playoff games.
Northeast finished 7-4 overall and advanced to the state semifinals, where Stokes returned from a hamstring injury to have a 70-yard reception.
"Our team is a heavy run team, that was the tradition, and I wasn't aware of that," Stokes said. He also decided to transfer because it was financially more feasible for his family. "With my brother starting last year, they started throwing it a bit. We could've thrown a lot more this season, but being a run heavy program we're not used to that. Next year with me and my brother we'll throw the ball a little bit more."
"No question we're going to open it up even more," Hinton said.
Stokes also set a single-game record with 177 yards receiving.
Illinois offered Stokes a scholarship this week, joining Pittsburgh as the two schools that have quickly stepped to the table. Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, USC, Rutgers, Georgia Tech and several other programs are showing a lot of interest.
"I was anxious to get my first couple offers," Stokes said. "It was exciting more than anything because I put the work in and I was just waiting for the colleges to show their interest."
Stokes has really been doing his homework on a lot of schools, and does his best to stay in regular contact with a lot of coaches from around the country.
One of those coaches is Irish assistant John Latina.
"I try to stay in touch with him once a week," Stokes said. He has a 3.2 GPA and just scored a 1400 on his SAT. "I've been kind of busy lately with my SATs and planning everything for my trip to the U.S. Army National Combine. Its been a couple weeks. I send him emails, sometimes I'll call just to see how things are going."I talked to him a few weeks ago. He said they'll be by sometime after their season is over. I think they'll be by next week if not the week after." The Irish coaching staff has also reviewed Stokes's tape.
"Coach Latina said they really enjoyed it, really loved what I could do. He said they were going to take it to Charlie Weis one of these Fridays so he could get a chance to evaluate me as a player, I guess before they offer."
Other than the outstanding play at receiver, the Irish coaches saw Stokes run for over 300 yards, and from his safety position make 48 tackles and intercept two passes. In one game he just rushed the passer from the edge all evening, and recorded all four of his sacks for the season.
"He's a Division-1 player," Hinton stated. "He has good hands, good speed, a 4.38 40, athletic. Stays out of trouble. LSU was just by to see him. So many coaches are calling I can't keep track of them."
Stokes has been to Penn State twice, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State and Rutgers for various camps and combines. He plans to make it to Notre Dame in the spring or some time over the summer.
"I know Charlie Weis is a great coach," Stokes said. "That it's a great school overall. They have great tradition and they definitely have great alumni and worldwide support. Getting a degree from there is a prestigious thing and second to none."
Stokes also spoke about his two offers.
"They got a very good program and great engineering program, and that is something I want to do when I get to college," Stokes said of Illinois. "I like the program a lot. They've showed me a lot of love. They want me to be part of their organization which is a good thing. They want me to compete for a starting job as a true freshman, and they're really high on my list.
"(Pittsburgh) was nice," he said. "I didn't really know much about their program when they offered. I kind of knew Larry Fitzgerald went there. I like (Dave) Wannstedt the coach. I'm just trying to do my homework on their program as well."
This spring will be Stokes third year ever running track. Last season he was a state qualifier in the 110-meter high hurdles, just missing a spot in the finals. Stokes was a member of the school's 4X200 relay team that qualified for nationals.
Stokes said he thinks that his younger brother is a future Division-I player as well. Playing with him made transferring worthwhile.
"I knew me and him playing together would be a great experience," Stokes said. "We definitely have a great chemistry and we were able to help the team a lot."