A pair of Newton County natives didn’t contribute much on the field to the Georgia Bulldogs last year, but they’ll have a chance to compete for playing time as the 2018 season approaches.
Newton High School’s J.J. Holloman and Eastside’s Eric Stokes were on the receiving end of complements from teammates during the SEC Media days in late July. It could be a sign that the Newton County products could be poising themselves for meaningful snaps in 2018.
“He’s a great kid and a great athlete,” senior wide receiver Terry Godwin said of Holloman.
“Eric’s made some progressions so far,” said junior safety J.R. Reed. “But we’ll see a lot more in camp.”
Fall ball is where Holloman and Stokes will have to make a name for themselves to earn playing time as the Bulldogs try to bounce back this season from their heartbreaking loss to Alabama in January. A late heave for a touchdown from Tua Tagovailoa dashed Georgia’s National Championship hopes.
Several players at a bevy of positions have departed for the Bulldogs, either via graduation or for the riches of the NFL.
For Stokes, the Bulldogs lost three defensive backs, including starting corner Dominick Sanders. For Holloman, Javon Wims left for the pros, and there’s a chance for him to rise into the top level of the Bulldogs’ receiving corps.
Speaking at the podium Tuesday, third-year head coach Kirby Smart said he isn’t worried about filling holes in his depth chart. His philosophy is that the best players will rise up in camp.
“Replacing those players is not something we talk about. It's something the guys with the roles, they have an opportunity to step up,” Smart said. “That's part of being a good coach to me is saying, okay, what pieces of the puzzle are we going to put in what place.”
Holloman, a 6-foot-2 sophomore wideout, saw some playing time last year with the Bulldogs, but was often buried on the depth chart. He played in five games and caught his only pass for seven yards in Georgia’s win over Vanderbilt.
But Holloman is regarded as a player with tremendous upside. He was a four-star recruit in 2017 after hauling in 101 catches for 1,596 yards and 17 touchdowns over his high school career. He signed with UGA over offers from LSU, Nebraska, Miami, Tennessee and Notre Dame.
In offseason workouts, he’s impressed Godwin, the leader in the Bulldogs’ wide receiver’s room.
“It’s just going to take time for (Holloman) to get out there and show his abilities,” Godwin said. “We trust him and once we put him out there, we know he’s going to make a play for us, whether it’s a slant, a deep ball, whatever. He’s just out there working hard like everyone else to try and improve his game.”
Stokes spent last season as a redshirt, practicing with the team, but didn’t see the field during a game. Now eligible, he’s competing for playing time at cornerback with a host of other defensive backs.
At 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., Stokes seems to be the typical size for a cornerback but was first recruited by colleges as a running back. A versatile player at Eastside as a senior, he tallied 20 tackles, two interceptions and five deflections on defense, and 462 yards and five touchdowns on offense.
Stokes was tabbed as a three-star prospect and picked Georgia over Ole Miss, Florida, Virginia Tech and Iowa State. Many Bulldogs says he is one of the fastest players on the team.
With younger players competing for starting jobs, Godwin and Reed have taken on mentor roles with their respective position groups, coaching up guys like Holloman and Stokes.
“We got to get guys ready to play. There’s new faces out there and they have to learn the playbook and get ready to play,” Reed said. “It’s a role you can’t avoid. You got to embrace it if you want your team to go in the direction you want them to go in.”
Georgia opens its season on Sept. 1 against Austin Peay in Athens. Between now and then, competition will be intense, and Holloman and Stokes will have the opportunity to prove themselves to Smart and the coaching staff.
“We’re always trying to compete and make each other better,” Godwin said. “It’s all competition and love at the end of the day.”