COC TO SEE MANY SIDES OF STOKES.
VALENCIA - Local high school football fans will enjoy seeing quarterback David Parker and receiver Nathan Steele, both from Saugus High, as they begin their college careers with College of the Canyons. Fans will also have the chance to see former Valencia receiver Stephen Stokes, another of the area's elite.
The problem is, spectators won't know where to look for Stokes, who will play three or four different positions as a freshman in the upcoming season. And when they do lock in on him, his speed and elusiveness will make him a tough target to follow.
Stokes will spend the majority of his time on offense, where he might wind up starting in one of the slot-receiver positions. He is also expected to play running back, a thin position after returning starters Steve Smith and Major Caldwell. Stokes is also pushing to become the team's primary kick returner.
While Stokes has extensive high school experience at defensive back, coach Chuck Lyon said a strong pool of talent at that position will keep him from using Stokes there at the outset. Injuries or poor play could change that, however, meaning Stokes could be your resident flashy, two-way player in the vein of Deion Sanders.
``He's going to play because he's a good athlete,'' Lyon said. ``But he's a better kid than he is athlete. He's a quality kid and he's going to make an impact here. I just don't know exactly what I'm going to do with him.
``Size plays against him or he wouldn't be here at all. We'll do a good job of finding the right plays for him.''
Lyon, one of the more innovative offensive coaches at the junior college level in the state, said he feels lucky to have such a versatile weapon at his disposal. Stokes has all the skill and speed recruiters covet, not to mention the grades. Yet size - Stokes is 5-foot-8, 175 pounds - is not something which can be learned or improved by coaching.
There are small defensive backs who play in Division I, yet the majority have had to prove themselves at the junior college level. Despite the rampant size discrimination, Stokes was offered a scholarship to play for Division I-AA Missouri State. He turned it down because it required him to play defensive back full-time and because it was too far away.
``Initially I was devastated; it was a shot to the heart,'' Stokes said. ``I worked the last four years getting good grades and playing hard to get a scholarship. Not to get offered one mainly because of my height was discouraging. I went through that for a couple of weeks. At COC I realized this was my chance to grow a little bit.''
Stokes hopes to grow mentally as a player, but he was speaking literally about his height when he said he'd have a chance to grow with the Cougars. Stokes said he recently began a growth spurt after a couple of years of dormancy.
Whether he grows or not, Stokes said he has qualified to transfer to a four-year school after three semesters at COC, meaning he will play two seasons with the football team and then transfer before the start of the spring semester of his sophomore year.
Stokes keeps in close contact with former Valencia High teammates Manuel White and Ray Cassaday, who are both on scholarship at UCLA.
``I don't know if I'd want to go to UCLA, the way they feature such big-time things,'' Stokes said. ``I'm not into the big-time program with eight all-stars going out for one position. I'd like to go to a smaller big school but, hey, if UCLA wants to give me a scholarship, I wouldn't turn them down.''
Stokes was recruited by San Jose State and said he would be interested in continuing his career there or perhaps Utah State. While he is at COC, Stokes will rely on his low visibility as a strength while he learns the college game.
``I just want to come as a surprise,'' he said. ``My goal is to try to be the best-kept secret they have and bring explosiveness to the field.''
Name: Stephen Stokes
School: College of the Canyons
Weight: 175 pounds
Position: Receiver, running back, kick returner
Future: Wants to major in kinesiology and become a personal trainer
(color) Size, not talent, has kept Division I schools from jumping to grab ex-Valencia receiver Stephen Stokes.
Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jul 27, 2000|
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