The only player currently on the Stanford roster from the Volunteer State is walk-on linebacker Peter Griffin. The Memphis man may have some welcome company from his hometown in his position group a year from now if the Cardinal can continue their surprising recruiting success with University School linebacker John Stokes.
The 6'5" 220-pounder has not had a lot written about him but early amassed offers from Stanford, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Memphis. Stokes is a big man who plays a "buzzer" position in the Owls' 3-5 defensive front.
"I blitz. I cover. I play like an outside linebacker," he explains. "I do come off the edge a lot. We face a lot of running offenses. You have to stop the run first around here. That's where I made most of my plays."
Stokes racked up 70 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries as a junior.
"I read plays and get to the ball quickly," he describes. "I cover ground pretty fast because of how big I am. I watch a lot of film for a guy in high school. I try to react to the ball quick and get to the ball, and I make a big hit when I get there."
An avid basketball player who hoops it up rather than attend football combines during his off-season. That limits some of the recruiting service exposure for Stokes, but he has been timed running a 4.7 at his high school and is hard at work on his gridiron craft heading into his senior season.
"Of course everybody wants to get stronger and faster," Stokes says. "I also want to improve my technique to beat an offensive tackle. I need to be able to line up on the line of scrimmage to beat a blocker and get to the passer."
The interesting question surrounding this super-sized defender is where he projects at the college level. Is he a "Sam" linebacker, or is he a defensive end?
"In a 3-4 defense, I think I can play outside linebacker," Stokes opines. "Teams that run a 4-3 see me as getting bigger and maybe playing defensive end."
"I kind of do feel like, for instance, a Stanford who plays a 3-4 thinks that I am more perfect or fit into that system better," he adds. "But the majority of college football runs a 4-3. I am pretty fast and can react to the ball, so we'll see what fits me best."
With offers and heavy interest from several of the top football programs in the area, this Memphis man could be another difficult distance challenge for Stanford to recruit from afar. However, good fortune smiled upon this relationship during - of all things - March Madness.
"Stanford offered me right around the first of March," Stokes begins. "We knew I wanted to get out there but knew it would be hard to get out there. Then Memphis made it to the Oakland Regional of the NCAA [Men's Basketball] Tournament, and a charter flight for fans to go out there just happened like two days before."
Stokes and his father boarded the plan full of rabid Tigers fans to the Bay Area. Memphis played on a Thursday, winning that Sweet 16 game and advancing to play again on Saturday. That victory was important because it kept the crowd out West. Stokes was able to see Stanford early that Thursday and then again on Friday.
"We took a tour of the campus, saw the facilities, had lunch with the players and met Coach [Walt] Harris and most of the staff," the visitor details. "We also met with an academic counselor who was really helpful. We talked about classes, school in the quarter system and the kind of support student-athletes have available."
Fluke circumstances supported Stokes' Stanford sojourn, and recruiting battles can indeed turn on a lucky break. How was this prospect impacted by his time on The Farm?
"It was a great visit, and I learned a lot," Stokes says. "It was very good. I was very impressed. I'll be honest - a year ago I never would have thought I'd be considering going to Stanford."
"I don't think I came away sold on it," he continues. "As time has gone on, I have thought more about it as it sinks in. It feels better and better every day."
This improbable recruiting match is looking like less of a long shot and more of a real possibility. His offer and opportunity is creating a buzz back home.
"You hear about Stanford's reputation of athletics and academics especially," the recruit relates. "I haven't had anybody from here get into school in a long time."
"I definitely like Stanford a lot. I don't want to close any doors. It's definitely up there. I'm considering it for real," Stokes states. "Of the seven offers, I'm considering them all right now."
More important than his words are the actions of this recruit. As if the trip he and his father took in March to the Golden State was not impressive enough, Stokes made a return trip again in an unofficial capacity recently in May. This time, his mother was in tow. Impressing Dad is one thing, but recruiting experiences through the years have taught the importance of bringing Mom on board. This visit also differed from the March trip in that it brought Stokes to campus on a weekday while the coaching staff was almost entirely on the road during the NCAA evaluation period. By design, this scheduling intended to put Stokes with Stanford student-athletes for a "day in the life" experience that included classes.
Always eager to tease, we will bring you the second half of the John Stokes story, with the full report on his return trip, in Part II of our introduction to the Memphis man...
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