Stanhope Elmore defensive end K.J. Stokes has been impressing coaches since the eighth grade.
He took home MVP honors at the National Underclassmen Combine All-American Game in 2013, prompting an offer from UAB before he even got to high school.
The exposure kept coming as a freshman. He earned an invite to a Rivals 250 camp last summer and was invited to the Nike Opening regional in Atlanta this March.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound edge rusher impressed a different group in July when he was at a Troy camp. That’s when new Trojans coach Neil Brown offered the rising star.
“It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing, I just have to keep going and keep getting better so more can come,” Stokes said.
Another offer may come sooner rather than later, from Alabama. Stokes went to a camp last month and said defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is keeping an eye out for him.
“I went to a camp in July, and they really liked me there. They were like, ‘I’ll be looking at you. Keep working and get in the weight room,'” Stokes said.
Stokes has gained 25 pounds since the start of his freshman year and expects it to pay off after being the “little guy” playing Class 6A ball last year. But he knows with a Division I offer as a sophomore, comes extra attention.
“It feels good to have a lot of eyes on me. But at the same time, I know the more eyes I have on me, the better I have to perform,” Stokes said.
Stokes was an integral part in Stanhope’s turnaround last season. He racked up 62 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks as the Mustangs battled numerous injuries and a 1-5 start, but rebounded to win their final four games and make the playoffs.
With guys like Stokes and running back B.J. Smith, who also has a Troy offer, hopes are high in 2015.
“It was our drive. Our whole team has a winning mentality. Once we saw we were 1-5, we all sat down and were like, ‘We have to get back. This is not us.’ And when we saw our guys get hurt, that just gave us more enthusiasm to keep going and do it for them,” Stokes said. “This year I have to work way harder. I have to drive my team so we can get to the championship. That’s our goal for the end of the season.”