Among the 11 members of Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2022 who enrolled early, no one has more momentum than Kye Stokes coming out of spring practices.
Going into the spring, most people probably wouldn’t have picked Stokes to be a top candidate to play immediately as a true freshman. After all, he was the third-lowest-ranked Ohio State signee in 247Sports’ composite rankings for the 2022 class, and he entered a crowded safety room that is set to have 12 players on scholarship this season even after Bryson Shaw entered the transfer portal.
After just 15 practices as a Buckeye, however, Stokes already looks like someone who’s going to be tough to keep off the field this fall.
Stokes’ strong start to his Ohio State career already became apparent last week when he was the first freshman to have his black stripe removed this year. Stokes was one of just two freshmen to lose his black stripe this spring along with defensive end Caden Curry, and Ryan Day said Stokes was the first to earn that distinction because of both the playmaking ability he’s shown and his positive attitude.
“The first thing you notice is his smile and his attitude every day is just excellent. It's just contagious. I mean, he constantly just has a lot of energy,” Day said Thursday. “But on the field athletically, he's got a really high ceiling. His movement is excellent. His range, his ability to change direction, his ball skills, covering skills.”
While Stokes had already impressed Ohio State’s coaches before the spring game, Day went into Saturday wanting to see how Stokes would perform when the Buckeyes went live with tackling inside Ohio Stadium.
Stokes delivered in a big way.
Playing the adjuster position as the second defender into the game at that spot behind starter Ronnie Hickman, Stokes showed impressive playmaking range throughout the spring game as he recorded nine tackles – tied with redshirt freshman safety Andre Turrentine for the second-most among all Ohio State defenders (behind linebacker Tommy Eichenberg) – and made a pair of impressive pass breakups that led to defensive stops late in the first half.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was impressed by how Stokes stepped up in the spotlight of playing in front of fans in the Shoe.
“Kye has had a good, good spring. Without watching the film, I thought he had a great game,” Knowles said during Saturday’s postgame press conference. “He showed up and flashed it and looked like he rose to the occasion. What you worry about with a young guy is the bright lights, and he looked like it was no problem for him, and he really stepped up. So I’m looking at good things for him. I liked him all along, but I was impressed today.”
Stokes’ rise in his first semester as a Buckeye appears to share at least some similarities to the one made a year ago by Denzel Burke, who also arrived at Ohio State as an unheralded four-star recruit but quickly turned heads in spring practice, ultimately leading to his emergence as Ohio State’s No. 1 cornerback as a true freshman.
During his first interview session as a Buckeye in February, Stokes said he was inspired by Burke’s rapid rise up the depth chart and hoped to follow in his footsteps.
“That's like a big inspiration for me to push myself,” Stokes said. “To see him come in and be as successful as he was, it just gives me that much more drive to hopefully be on the field this year.”
It would still come as a surprise if Stokes played that big of a role as a true freshman, as Hickman, Josh Proctor and Tanner McCalister look like the leading candidates to start at safety this season while Kourt Williams and Cameron Martinez are also in the mix to play significant roles. But he looks to have a real chance to earn immediate playing time and a spot on the two-deep, potentially as Hickman’s top backup.
“I'm always worried about depth back there,” Knowles said. “Because sometimes you have to move guys around from position to position, and it becomes a challenge if you don't have enough guys. So that's why I was really excited to see what Kye did today. I feel like that can help us a lot in terms of our depth.”
“What you worry about with a young guy is the bright lights, and he looked like it was no problem for him, and he really stepped up.”– Jim Knowles on Kye Stokes’ spring game
Back in February, Stokes said he was willing to be patient and wait his turn as a freshman if he had to, but he was confident he was capable of making an impact right away if given the opportunity.
“If I do what I'm supposed to, I feel like I can be on the field,” Stokes said. “And I feel like I can have a big contribution to the team.”
With the momentum Stokes has built this spring, it’s starting to look like Stokes will be on the field and making a big contribution sooner than later.