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Kevin Stokes was the right man for the job for Oakcrest High School football, track teams

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher When you are doing some heavy lifting, the last thing you need are guys who are going to quit on you when the job is only halfway done. Chuck Smith and the Oakcrest High School football coaching staff had some heavy lifting to do the past few seasons, as the Falcons looked to recover from shrinking numbers in the program after sister school Cedar Creek opened its doors. Smith and his assistants needed guys who weren’t going to quit on them if they were going to make it through some tough seasons and rebuild the proud Falcon tradition. Kevin Stokes, who recently graduated, was one of several key players Smith counted on to get the Falcons through some tough times and back to the state playoffs. It was a challenge Stokes had no problem accepting. “This past football season was definitely something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Coming from back-to-back terrible seasons, to have a winning record and make the playoffs last year was really nice. It was a great feeling, not only for the seniors to finally get there, but also the young guys to show them that even if you struggle for a few years, if you continue to work hard you can surprise a lot of people, just like we did,” said Stokes, who also was a valuable member of the boys track team. “Being hurt my entire junior year, just to be able to run around the field with nothing holding me back was a great feeling this year; knowing that I could go out there and compete with everybody.” Stokes missed his entire junior football season after suffering an injury during the basketball season, and the team went 2-8. He returned as a senior, leading the Falcons to a 6-4 record and a berth in the state playoffs. Kevin Stokes, a recent graduate of Oakcrest High School, had an outstanding career in both football and track, and plans to continue his football career at Rowan University. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O'Sullivan) Kevin Stokes, a recent graduate of Oakcrest High School, had an outstanding career in both football and track, and plans to continue his football career at Rowan University. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan) “Kevin was one of our cornerstones the last couple of years. He was there through the whole rebuilding process. There were a couple of lean years after Cedar Creek opened. He’s just an unbelievable kid, character-wise. He started as a freshman, played his sophomore year, then missed about 80 percent of his junior season after suffering an injury during the basketball season. That really threw a wrench into everything, but he bounced back from it and had a great senior season. He made second-team all-conference, started on both sides of the ball, was a team captain,” Smith said. “We were very fortunate that he stuck with us through it, and there were a handful of kids who did. He kind of saw the writing on the wall a few years ago. When we saw what was going to happen we decided we were going to play some of these young kids, take it on the chin a little bit, and hopefully down the road it would pay off. Last year it came around to us, and that was the turning point to get this thing going again. That’s tough when you are losing a lot, but the kids stuck with it.” Smith said the positive attitude that guys such as Stokes showed was what helped spark the transition from also-ran to playoff contender for the football program. “You wouldn’t know if we were 9-1 or 1-9 because the kids kept it so positive all the time, and that was refreshing. It never felt like our record was what it was during those few seasons. We had good, quality kids out there and Kevin was a big part of that. Even when he was injured during his junior year he was out there with us the whole time,” Smith said. “There are different types of leaders. There are guys who are vocal and guys who do it by example, and Kevin was a guy who led by example. He was always there working hard in the weight room, he never let up in practice, just full-tilt all the time, and the kids saw that. Young kids looked up to him, and he had a great disposition. He was fun to be around.” Stokes also was a part of a highly successful relay team for the track squad that featured Ali-Quan Stokes (no relation), as well as Tyler Clybourn and Paul Oliver. That quartet finished second to Egg Harbor Township at the Atlantic County Championships before winning the Cape-Atlantic League title in the 4×400-meter relay. “Oakcrest always has a tradition of being a great track school. Coming into this season, having lost Ish Muhammad and all those other seniors, we felt like we couldn’t be the team to have a letdown, so there was a lot of pressure on our shoulders,” Stokes said. “We knew everybody was sort of on the same level, but when the big meets came around, everybody felt like they had the confidence. They went out there and worked hard.” Stokes will be carrying plenty of accomplishments with him to Rowan University this fall, where he plans to continue his football career. He said it hasn’t really hit him that his high school career at Oakcrest has come to an end, but he will have another month or so to savor his time as a Falcon before moving on. “It’s hard to describe how it feels going from a freshman to a senior and having everything on your shoulders. It was a great learning experience, especially now that I’m going into college and preparing for the rest of my life. Football was a great asset in helping me make those steps toward my future,” Stokes said. “It hasn’t truly sunken in that I’m not going to be back at Oakcrest, but I think in August — once all my friends start heading off to college — it will really hit me that it’s time to move on with my life. I’m never going to forget the times I had at Oakcrest, but at the same time, it’s time to make some new memories at college and that’s something I’m really excited about.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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