It’s been a tremendous year for Eastside sophomore athlete Eric Stokes. Just in his second year in high school and Stokes earned the starting running back position at the beginning of the football season, he was ranked second in the 400m heading into state, he’s been offered by Georgia State and now he’s a state champion.
Stokes won the state title just a week ago with a 47.902 (47.91 initially) in the 400m, which is a school record. Stokes was primarily a 100m runner before this season, but Frankey Iverson, EHS head track and field coach, left it up to Stokes to determine whether or not he would run the 400m.
“At the beginning of the year I told him, “If you decide that you want to do the 400, you’ll probably win state doing it,” Iverson said.
Iverson says that Stokes wanted to get “that hat” the one that comes with the medal for the state championship, so he chose to give the 400m a go. However, in the second event of the season, Stokes suffered a hamstring injury that hurt his chances at competing in the 100, so Stokes focused on the 400m.
“I remember when I stopped my hamstring started tightening up I tried to stretch and everything and I did the 100,” Stokes said about the initial injury. “In the 100, I really messed it up that day because I know when we did the 4x4 I barely made it to the finish line because I started limping down on the last stretch of the 100 so I knew my hamstring was really messed up after that meet.”
Much to Stokes’ chagrin, Iverson has Stokes run a 600m in training once a week every week to continuously drop his 400m time.
“I hate that 600,” Stokes said half-smiling. “Even though I know it comes every week. I just hate that 600. It takes everything out of me. I know the reward is if your 600 tims is gonna drop your 400 time gonna drop. So I push it every week and I just try to get better at it.”
Stokes saw the growth in his time after he ran the 400 for the first time, still injured. He ran a 49 his first time, but he says if he was healthy he knew he could get to a 48 or 47. He said his hamstring was killing him, but he knew if he had the chance to work at it, he could get that hat and Stokes said he would do anything in his power to do it. And he did.
“I knew I could easily win state if I just train at it like I’m supposed to,” Stokes said.
Iverson says once the athletes buy in and run the 600m, their rimes start to drop. He says that’s what happened with Stokes. Before they went to state, Stokes ran his fastest time in the 600m all season. Iverson told one of his coaches that Stokes was ready.
“It kind of set up perfectly for him,” Iverson said.
With the injury in the past, and Stokes at full health it was up to him to reach his goal of getting that hat. The race was so close, but Stokes beat out Whitewater’s Jonathon Womack by seven-hundredths of a second to get the hat he longed for all season.
“I thought I lost the race because I thought he finally passed me because on the last stretch I almost fell and he was coming right there so when we crossed the finish line I got off the track mad, but luckily I heard my coaches and everyone screaming,” Stokes said. “So when I looked back I looked at my time and I saw that it had Eastside, Eric Stokes No. 1. When I finally stood on top of the podium, that was the happiest day of my life.”
Already focusing on next year, Stokes says he may do the 400m again and try and repeat as champion, but he really wants to do the 100m and get a state title in that event in his junior season.