It’s not too often that Ohio State accepts a commitment from a prospect who doesn’t even have a composite recruiting ranking, but the Buckeyes did with Kye Stokes.
At the time Stokes committed to Ohio State on May 2, 2021, Stokes was an unheralded three-star recruit who was ranked as the 77th-best player in the state of Florida and the 56th-best athlete – the catch-all term used by recruiting websites for players whose future position is uncertain – in the recruiting class of 2022 by 247Sports. But Ohio State believed in his potential, which made an impression on Stokes.
“Frankly, it didn’t really matter to me,” Stokes said of flying under the radar. “I just wanted to go and prove myself. But it did mean something that they were willing to extend themselves, even for a player like me that wasn’t as highly ranked at the time.”
Ohio State wasn’t the only top program who took notice of Stokes before the recruiting rankings caught up. He also landed offers from Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame and Tennessee in the same late April week that he received his offer from Ohio State. But the Buckeyes made the biggest impression on Stokes by how seriously they recruited him.
“How they approached the process, it just felt different,” Stokes told Eleven Warriors earlier this month. “They kept their promises. They told me they were going to watch my film and be back to me by Monday at 11:00. And that Monday, (running backs coach Tony Alford) called me at 9:00. So it was just the fact that they held up to their word.”
Eight month after committing to Ohio State, Stokes is in Columbus as a midyear enrollee and eager to prove the Buckeyes made a good decision by signing him.
“Go in and make an impact early,” Stokes said when asked how he can prove that. “Show them that it wasn’t a fluke, that they made a great choice when they decided to offer me.”
Stokes is now rated as a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 356 overall prospect, No. 16 athlete and No. 44 prospect from Florida in the composite rankings for the 2022 class. If landing scholarship offers from Ohio State, the two teams that just played in the national championship game and numerous other premier programs wasn’t enough evidence of his rise as a prospect, he soared up the recruiting rankings during his final season at Armwood High School, too.
But Stokes never got the same kind of attention as a recruit than many other Ohio State signees do, and he still has a chip on his shoulder because of that.
“I just feel like I gotta prove myself a little more than some of the other guys,” Stokes said. “I have something to prove to myself. Something to prove to my family, the city of Tampa and all the fans.”
While his 247Sports profile still lists him as an athlete after he played on both offense and defense at Armwood, Stokes will be playing in the secondary at Ohio State. He doesn’t yet know exactly what position he’ll be playing in the secondary – though he believes he’ll end up at either cover safety or free safety – but he thinks his versatility will be an asset to the Buckeyes.
“I feel like I can be successful playing corner, playing safety, cover safety, what have you,” said Stokes, who is 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and was a district track champion in the 100-meter dash in high school. “Play fast, play physical. I am very passionate about the game of football, so I feel like I bring a lot of energy when I play.”
Regardless of where he lines up, Stokes will have to beat out plenty of competition to get on the field as a freshman. Tanner McCalister, Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez are all candidates for substantial playing time at cover safety while Josh Proctor returns as a likely starter at free safety, where Bryson Shaw was the starter this past season. Stokes is versatile enough to play bullet – or whatever the successor to that position might be in Jim Knowles’ defense – or even cornerback, but Ronnie Hickman and Kourt Williams return at bullet while Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown are expected to start at cornerback.
Nonetheless, Stokes has no plans to back down from that competition, as he says his mentality – one that’s been ingrained in him from playing in the second-highest classification of high school football in Florida – is to always compete and to “want to be the best in anything.”
Stokes says he’s drawn inspiration from Burke, who made his own rise last year from being a four-star athlete who played on both sides of the ball in high school and didn’t get a ton of recruiting fanfare to becoming Ohio State’s No. 1 cornerback as a true freshman.
“It’s very, very inspiring,” Stokes said. “He kind of set the bar for me, to be honest with you. I gotta make sure I do what I’m supposed to, put in the work and hopefully I can be where he’s at.”
Stokes says he’s been properly warned that his first year at Ohio State will be hard, but he’s embracing the challenge. Stokes says working hard is the biggest thing he prides himself on.
“I’m very relaxed, but I’m also a hard worker,” Stokes said. “I put my blood, sweat and tears into everything I do, especially the game of football. So that’s really what I want people to know that I’m a very, very hard worker.”
He’s also already embraced one of Ohio State’s biggest ethoses: That nothing is more important than beating Michigan. Although he grew up in the Sunshine State, Stokes has quickly bought in to the rivalry and says helping the Buckeyes get back on the winning side of The Game is his biggest goal as he starts his Ohio State career.
“I don’t like the team up north. I want to beat them, and I want to beat them bad,” Stokes said. “That’s really what I’m looking forward to. Obviously our defense didn’t have that good of a game when we played them. So hopefully we can come in and fix that.”