Ultimately Eric Stokes spurned his dream school to choose the best fit.
Stokes, the 6-foot-1, 180 pound speedster from Eastside High waited until the last possible moment to share his college choice, and in the end, he ended up choosing Georgia.
“It’s been a long process, but without my family and teammates none of this would’ve happened,” Stokes said before taking a few moments to reach under the table for a gray, flat brimmed hat that donned the black and red “G” during Eastside’s National Signing Day ceremony this past Wednesday.
When he put it on, he stood up and lifted his hands while those who gathered in Eastside’s media center cheered wildly.
For Stokes, the raising of his hands was part celebration and part relief in what he called a "long, hard process."
“It’s stressful for the kids,” said Eastside head coach Troy Hoff. “But it’s also stressful for us too. But it’s a good kind of stress. I know people talk about earlier signing periods and those kind of things to take the stress of the athletes, but I think you’re still going to have it. The stress comes with the fact that these young men are making one of the most important decisions of their lives.”
At an earlier time, when asked about his top five, Stokes gave a list that included Florida and Ole Miss. He stated that it had always been a dream of his to go to Florida.
But Stokes said the appeal of playing close to home and with local guys like Newton’s Jeremiah Holloman — already enrolled at UGA — was too much for him to pass up.
“It was just like a family there,” Stokes said. “It’s real important for me to be at a place that’s like family, and they’ve got it there. I wanted to be close to home and be around some guys who I know, we’re gonna be something serious. It played a lot into my decision to see guys like Jeremiah go there. I’ve grown up around those guys and played with those people and I already know what kind of talent they’ve got and I know we can be in the future.”
Stokes, indeed, chose Georgia over Ole Miss and Florida, calling it “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.” But it was after he took his last in-depth look at the last school on his list that helped propel him to a decision.
“It was like two days ago, I can’t even lie,” he said. “It was after visiting Ole Miss, it really came down to them two and Georgia just won.”
In Stokes, the Bulldogs are getting not only a talented football player, but one of the fastest high schoolers in the nation. Last spring Stokes won a track and field state championship in the 100 and 200 meters, running times of 10.40 seconds and 21.58 seconds respectively.
Stokes has competed and won nationally in track as well, and his speed coupled with his versatility as a football player made him attractive for most of the Southeast’s blue blood college football programs.
Stokes rushed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns and caught 16 balls for 183 yards and three scores in 2016 for a 7-3-1 Eastside squad that made the playoffs for the second time in the last three years. He also registered 20 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups as a defensive back, which is the position UGA recruited him for.
Here’s a list of all Newton County Class of 2017 football signees.
Eric Stokes — University of Georgia (GA)
Josh Sims — James Madison University (VA)
Shawn Baily — LaGrange College (GA)
Kaleb Allen — Catawba College (NC)
Devon Housel - Point University (GA)
Garrett Stephens — Birmingham Southern (AL)
Davin Griffth Reinhardt (GA)
Tiaje Thomas Highland Community. (KS)
Jeremiah Holloman — University of Georgia (GA)
Jaquan Henderson — Georgia Tech (GA)
Robert Black, IV— Air Force Academy (CO)
Josh Tukes — Georgia Tech (GA)
Jeremiah Bundrage — Wingate (NC)
Trey Alexander —Alderson Broaddus (WV)
Deontae Clark, Jr. Savannah State (GA)
Dante Johnson Independence (KS)
Kentavis Terrell Cumberlands (KY)
Adrian Carr — Columbus State (GA)