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Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes shines on big stage, hushes critics in SEC championship game
Eric Stokes
Georgia cornerback and former Eastside High standout, Eric Stokes celebrates after recording a big pass breakup that prevented an Alabama touchdown early in the first quarter. -photo by Brett Fowler

ATLANTA — The college football world learned a few things about Georgia cornerback and former Eastside standout, Eric Stokes as it watched him turn in a more-than-solid performance against top-ranked Alabama in Saturday night’s SEC Championship game. 

It learned that Stokes, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound redshirt freshman who was considered a raw-at-best talent as a 3-star high school prospect, could hold his own against elite competition. 

Stokes had four total tackles and a key pass breakup in the first quarter that prevented an Alabama touchdown and preceded a JR Reed interception on the next play. He also was a hair away from grabbing a potential game-changing interception midway through the fourth quarter. 

But the Twitter world also learned something about Stokes — that he knows how to clap back on a bad hot take. 

College football analyst Lars Anderson took to Twitter Saturday afternoon, predicting that Alabama was going to “roll big” against the Bulldogs, and that the 12.5 point spread in favor of the Crimson Tide was “free money.” 

His prediction then turned specifically toward Stokes, saying to “look for Tua to go after Georgia corner Eric Stokes, No. 27. Stokes will probably (be) matched up on (Henry) Ruggs.” Anderson then predicted Ruggs would get 100-plus receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Covington native. 

Well, anyone who watched the game doesn’t need a sportswriter to tell them how off that prediction was. But Stokes decided to remind Anderson just how inaccurate it was. 

Then on Sunday afternoon, Stokes responded to a tweet that talked about Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s ability to “develop 3-star DBs into productive starters.” Here’s how Stokes replied to that one:

Indeed, it’s been Stokes’ humility and work ethic that’s been highlighted over and again by Smart and virtually anyone else willing to talk about Stokes’ rapid rise from a scout team guy last year to a starter  and playmaker on one of college football’s biggest stages and biggest games of the season. 

Stokes himself, though stewing a bit from Saturday’s 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game, still had the presence of mind to understand how different his prospects as a player are today as compared to this time last year. 

Eric Stokes
Eric Stokes wraps up on an Alabama receiver during the SEC Championship game Saturday night. It was one of four tackles (two solo) on the night for the redshirt freshman corner. -photo by Brett Fowler

“It felt amazing to be out there like I was and to contribute, because I know me and (former Newton star) Jeremiah (Holloman), we worked our tails off all summer and spring,” Stokes said. “We worked our tails off to be in this position and in this moment. And we just tried to take full, full advantage of it.” 

Both of them did just that, particularly in the earlier parts of the game. In addition to Stokes’ performance, Holloman had two big grabs in the first half of the ‘Bama game for 37 yards. He had another pass thrown his way that, if not slightly under thrown, perhaps could’ve ushered the 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore into the end zone. 

JJ Holloman
Georgia wideout, Jeremiah Holloman high-points a ball for a first-quarter catch during Saturday's SEC Championship game against Alabama. -photo by Brett Fowler

Although Stokes was happy about his Saturday performance, it was a play that he couldn’t quite make that stuck in his craw. 

On the play right before Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts rolled right and found Jerry Jeudy for a 10-yard touchdown pass that tied the game up at 28, Stokes was maybe a step and a half away from snagging an interception that could’ve changed the complexion of the game tremendously — if not preserve a UGA win. 

“In my eyes, I thought I was real close to that one,” Stokes said about the near-miss on the pick. “I thought I was a step away. I’m real mad that I was a little bit too late and couldn’t get to that one.” 

Still, earlier in that drive, Stokes came up from his cornerback spot and made a solid tackle on Hurts that kept him from turning up field toward the end zone. But he also was flagged for a pass interference call late in the game that set up Bama’s last score. 

Eric Stokes
Eric Stokes comes up to make a tackle on Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts late in the fourth quarter. -photo by Anthony Banks

In less than 24 hours since the end of the game, high praise has been pouring in in respect to Stokes’ performance. And as those who know him best probably expected, his success is doing nothing to change the way he wants to approach the game. 

“Just go in and keep working,” he said. “We can’t get discouraged or anything. Just keep our head down and just grind.” 

As for a SEC Championship game hangover, Stokes said it’ll be out of his system by Monday morning. 

“Twenty-four hours, and you gotta keep it moving and onto the next game,” he said. 

The next game for No. 5 Georgia will be on New Year’s Day when it travels to New Orleans to face No. 15 Texas in the 2019 All-State Sugar Bowl. The Longhorns fell 39-27 to No. 4 Oklahoma in Saturday’s Big 12 Conference championship game, propelling the Sooners into the College Football Playoff over Georgia.