Folks, we’ve finally reached the month of June, and although the state of the upcoming college football season is still being worked out, the Oklahoma Sooners are doing everything they can to be prepared and ready. Speaking of which, as of today, there are 96 days until OU is scheduled to kick off the 2020 season against Missouri State on Sept. 5! For this installment in our countdown series, I want to highlight senior defensive end LaRon Stokes.
After playing his high school ball for NOAH — a home school team in Tulsa — Stokes took the JUCO route to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. There he garnered attention from the likes of Oklahoma State, Oregon, Virginia Tech and others before ultimately deciding to take the Sooners up on their offer as part of the 2019 recruiting class.
Upon enrolling early at OU, Stokes quickly stood out in spring practices. With DC Alex Grinch and other defensive assistants also entering their first year of coaching in Norman, there was plenty of buzz to go around the program. Still, the NEO product looked every bit a Big 12 caliber lineman, and by the time the season rolled around he earned his way into the rotation and made a noticeable impact on a weekly basis. Check out how he completely blew up this play in the backfield in Week 3 at UCLA.
Stokes’ value as a defensive end doesn’t only come from his ability to win one-on-one battles in the trenches or rush the passer from the pocket. As evidenced on this play from the season opener against Houston, No. 96 starts the play in a three-point stance, but instead of rushing upfield at the snap, he drops into coverage. From there, he spies the QB as he’s scrambling towards the sideline, then makes his move, forcing an incomplete pass on third down.
The hiring of Alex Grinch was monumental for several reasons, and LaRon Stokes is one of the many players who has benefitted from the OU defensive coordinator’s aggressive scheme. By allowing his athletes to use their natural strengths on the field, the game has changed for Oklahoma as a program. Going forward, it’ll be up to guys like Stokes to take the defense to the next level.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, Stokes was named the 2019 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. In total, he started in 10 of 13 games, recording 15 tackles, including 4.5 tackles-for-loss and a half sack.
With the departure of veterans like Neville Gallimore, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau, not to mention junior DE Ronnie Perkins’ suspension likely carrying over into the start of the 2020 season, the Sooners’ D-Line is going to feature a number of relatively unknown commodities out of the gate. Fortunately, LaRon Stokes gives Oklahoma some much-needed experience up front, and he’ll be counted on throughout the fall to lead by example.
Follow Crimson & Cream Machine on Twitter!