Northeast Times

Promising prospects

JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES STAFF PHO­TO­GRAPH­ER

Start­Frag­ment

In 1985, Ron Stokes was con­sidered one of the top foot­ball play­ers in Phil­adelphia. He was a two-time All-Pub­lic se­lec­tion and also earned All-City and All-State hon­ors at Ger­man­town High School.

After par­ti­cip­at­ing in the Phil­adelphia Daily News All-Star Game that same year, Stokes caught the eye of re­cruit­ers and even­tu­ally earned a schol­ar­ship to play foot­ball at Cent­ral State Uni­versity in Wil­ber­force, Ohio.

The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Nowadays, the col­lege-re­cruit­ment game is a little dif­fer­ent. Ad­vances in tech­no­logy have cer­tainly played a pivotal role — now stu­dent ath­letes can gain na­tion­al ex­pos­ure with the click of a but­ton — to make the pro­cess more wide­spread and com­pet­it­ive. 

“When I was an up-and-com­ing play­er, we didn’t have the things these kids have today that really help them get ex­pos­ure,” said Stokes. “When I was com­ing up, I worked very hard, but one of my faults was be­ing very overzeal­ous without a lot of know­ledge.”

That’s no longer a prob­lem.

Stokes has gained a wealth of know­ledge from his ex­per­i­ences as a stu­dent ath­lete and, more re­cently, through his two sons — Je’Ron and Ma­lik — who played at North­east High School and now are play­ing col­lege ball.

“My wife (Juanitta) and I, we’re like any oth­er par­ents with ath­letes that are ex­cel­ling. We’re try­ing to get the ex­pos­ure and get them to the next level,” ex­plained Stokes. “In the pro­cess, we saw and met a lot of oth­er par­ents in our very own back yard and play­ers on our kids’ team who wer­en’t get­ting that ex­pos­ure but were tal­en­ted.

“These kids were fall­ing through the cracks,” he ad­ded. “Me and my wife said we could really help them with the know­ledge that we ob­tained through the years. Not all par­ents are aware of the pro­cess. We wanted to edu­cate them and put them in a po­s­i­tion to suc­ceed.”

And with that idea, Top Pro­spect Sports was born.

The May­fair com­pany star­ted in Janu­ary 2010, however, ac­cord­ing to Stokes, the pro­cess star­ted long be­fore that. The over­all goal is to of­fer in­sight in­to the re­cruit­ing and scout­ing pro­cess and help stu­dent-ath­letes gain the know­ledge and ex­per­i­ence to suc­ceed at the next level.

“We de­vel­op re­la­tion­ships with coaches on a reg­u­lar basis. They call and ask who I have in this re­gion,” ex­plained Stokes. “I do col­lege tours and take kids to vari­ous uni­versit­ies throughout the sum­mer months to par­ti­cip­ate in sum­mer camps.

“We also run events,” he ad­ded. “Play­er-de­vel­op­ment pro­grams con­sist of a col­lege tour, but you don’t have to be in a pro­gram to par­ti­cip­ate. There’s also speed and agil­ity train­ing and workout camps to help the kids de­vel­op.”

Top Pro­spect Sports of­fers a wealth of ser­vices on a na­tion­al level, in­clud­ing high­light-tape edit­ing, re­cruit­ing pack­ages, camps and com­bines, and col­lege tours. While their headquar­ters is in May­fair, the busi­ness has teamed with Ve­lo­city Sports Per­form­ance, a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, N.J., for hands-on train­ing.

“We’re start­ing to kick off per­form­ance-pre­par­a­tion pro­grams for high school and re­cruit­ing com­bines for kids to get re­cog­nized and get at­ten­tion from col­lege pro­grams,” said Ve­lo­city Sports Per­form­ance part­ner Cary Hug­gard. “We’ve been in busi­ness for nine years. We’re ex­pand­ing in­to com­munit­ies in the South Jer­sey and Phil­adelphia areas. Our goal is to provide train­ing that helps to de­vel­op kids ath­let­ic­ally and men­tally.”

“This kind of train­ing is sim­il­ar to the train­ing col­lege play­ers do to pre­pare for the NFL com­bine,” ad­ded Stokes. “Pro­fes­sion­als train at these types of fa­cil­it­ies. They have state-of-the-art equip­ment and cer­ti­fied per­son­al train­ers. I partnered with them be­cause my sons trained there. I be­lieve in it strongly and I saw what it did for my kids and their de­vel­op­ment.”

Je’Ron and Ma­lik Stokes have built their own suc­cess on the grid­iron. The broth­ers first made a name for them­selves with the North­east High School foot­ball team.

Je’Ron, a wide re­ceiv­er who played for the Vik­ings for two years and gradu­ated in 2009, fin­ished with a total of 1,172 yards and 11 touch­downs.

His young­er broth­er Ma­lik, a quar­ter­back and four-year starter who gradu­ated the fol­low­ing year, had an over­all 27-20 re­cord (12-6 in league play) with the Vik­ings, with 37 touch­down passes. He also claimed the Pub­lic League ca­reer re­cord for passing yards with 4,170.

“With Je’Ron, his story was com­plex be­cause he trans­ferred from Penn Charter. No one knew about him when he trans­ferred to North­east High School,” the fath­er ex­plained. “I did some re­search on how the re­cruit­ing pro­cess works. I real­ized that go­ing to these col­lege cam­puses and par­ti­cip­at­ing in the camp cir­cuit was be­com­ing the new trend.”

And with that, the Stokes fam­ily planned their first trip to a show­case in Tal­l­a­hassee, Fla. It was the first of many trips, in­clud­ing travels to Colum­bus, Ohio and San Ant­o­nio, Texas.

“Once Je’Ron went around the cir­cuit, they star­ted to write huge things about him. They didn’t have any­thing to go by as far as high­light tapes,” said Stokes. “They just knew what they saw at the camps. Be­fore he even star­ted his ju­ni­or year, his repu­ta­tion skyrock­eted. It was a heavy de­mand on him to per­form. He began to get ranked na­tion­ally be­fore he even did any­thing loc­ally.”

Je’Ron was up for the chal­lenge. He had an ex­tremely suc­cess­ful seni­or sea­son at North­east High, and, as a res­ult, re­ceived more than 30 col­lege schol­ar­ship of­fers.

“We had col­lege coaches sit­ting in our liv­ing room ex­press­ing how bad they wanted him in their pro­gram,” his fath­er re­called. “Now with Ma­lik, it was the op­pos­ite. He plays that one po­s­i­tion (quar­ter­back), which is the most pres­ti­gi­ous po­s­i­tion.”

Ma­lik’s stel­lar skills in the QB role be­came both a bless­ing and a curse for the young play­er. In the re­cruit­ing pro­cess, most col­leges will take four or five wide re­ceiv­ers, but there usu­ally is only one open QB spot on most col­lege rosters.

As an al­tern­at­ive, Ma­lik chose to at­tend a prep school — Taft School in Wa­ter­town, Conn. — be­fore trans­fer­ring to Bowl­ing Green State Uni­versity, in Bowl­ing Green, Ohio. He now plays for the Di­vi­sion I Fal­cons.

Je’Ron com­mit­ted early to the Uni­versity of Ten­ness­ee. However, after some ab­rupt changes to the Vo­lun­teers coach­ing staff, he had second thoughts. He at­ten­ded the Uni­versity of Michigan in­stead, play­ing the 11 games in the 2010 sea­son for the Wol­ver­ines.

Last year, after more un­desir­able coach­ing changes, Je’Ron op­ted to play along­side his broth­er once again by trans­fer­ring to Bowl­ing Green State Uni­versity.

“Michigan had a lot of prob­lems be­cause they fired their coach and that left us in an awk­ward po­s­i­tion,” ex­plained Stokes. “We de­cided to trans­fer, and Bow­ing Green opened their arms to Je’Ron. It’s a bless­ing to us, hav­ing them both to­geth­er again.”

Stokes star­ted his com­pany, Top Pro­spect Sports, as a res­ult of his sons’ ex­per­i­ences with col­lege re­cruit­ment. He ex­plained that it has grown by leaps and bounds in its first year.

One loc­al suc­cess story is fel­low North­east High alum De­ion Barnes, who re­ceived 14 col­lege schol­ar­ship of­fers as a seni­or in 2011. He vis­ited col­lege cam­puses with Top Pro­spect Sports and now plays at Penn State Uni­versity.

“I really en­joyed my­self on the Michigan trip,” Barnes stated. “Watch­ing them on TV and see­ing them in per­son was like a dream come true be­cause be­fore I got in­volved with the Top Pro­spect group, I didn’t think I was go­ing to get a chance to see any­thing like that.

ldquo;I was also able to bond with guys from the New Jer­sey area and dif­fer­ent parts of the tri-state,” he ad­ded. “That can be be­ne­fi­cial for all of us, be­cause if we all are get­ting scouted, there is a chance some of us sign to the same school and can already be fa­mil­i­ar with someone.”

Avery Se­basti­an, a de­fens­ive back from Mc­Donough, Ga., also sought the ser­vices of Top Pro­spect Sports. After re­ceiv­ing more than 30 schol­ar­ship of­fers, he de­cided to go to the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia.

“The most im­port­ant thing is, you have to im­part edu­ca­tion to these young men,” said Stokes. “We are adam­ant to teach the kids and par­ents the most im­port­ant as­pect of this whole pro­cess is to al­low your ath­let­ic abil­ity to cata­pult you to fur­ther your edu­ca­tion.

“You’ll spend more time util­iz­ing that de­gree than your ath­let­ic abil­it­ies,” he con­tin­ued. “We have a ment­or­ship pro­gram where I try to teach these men goals and core val­ues of self­less­ness, char­ac­ter, in­teg­rity, ded­ic­a­tion, sac­ri­fice and team­work. We want to de­vel­op them in­to a lead­er.” ••

Top Pro­spect Sports and Ve­lo­city Sports Per­form­ance are hold­ing a free train­ing ses­sion for ath­letes ages 12 and up on Jan. 7 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Ve­lo­city Sports, 2005 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, N.J. 08003. Play­ers must call to re­serve their spot. For more in­form­a­tion, call 267-343-7606 or vis­it www.top­pro­spect­s­ports.net

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at myerkov@bsmphilly.com.

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