It doesn’t take long for new names to emerge during winter workouts and spring ball. This year, one of the newest names to pop out was freshman safety Kye Stokes.
Soon after spring practice started, Stokes was making plays. He eventually climbed to second-team free safety and also became the first freshman from OSU’s 2022 signing class to lose his black stripe.
This past Saturday, Stokes showed Buckeye fans what he had been showing coaches and teammates when he tallied nine tackles and two pass break-ups in Ohio State’s spring game. He was covering more ground than a seismograph and knocking down passes like a Clevelander swatting midges.
“Kye has had a good spring but without watching the film I thought he had a great game,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said after the spring game. “It looked like he rose to the occasion. He looked like it was no problem. I’m looking at good things for him.”
Knowles believes Stokes can add to the depth of the safety room, which took a hit this spring with the transfers of Bryson Shaw and Lejond Cavazos. Injuries to Jantzen Dunn, Lathan Ransom, and Kourt Williams also shortened the bench for the Buckeyes.
Even with a full allotment of safeties, however, Stokes would still have stood out to head coach Ryan Day.
“Kye Stokes, the first thing you notice is his smile and his attitude every day is just excellent,” Day said in the days leading up to the spring game. “It’s just contagious. He constantly has a lot of energy. 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.”
The way the Ohio State coaches talk about Kye Stokes, you’d think he was a five-star prospect that was recruited by all of the top schools in the nation. And while he was actually recruited by all of the top schools in the nation, he was OSU’s third-lowest-rated signee in the 2022 recruiting cycle.
Why was that?
“I kind of flew under the radar in high school. I didn’t really go to any camps,” Stokes said back in the winter. “I was just really focused on perfecting my craft and doing what I needed to do to get the attention that I did. So, I feel like that’s really why I didn’t get the attention. I didn’t go to camps. I didn’t do all the typical high school athlete things. I kind of flew under the radar.”
Stokes was relatively new to the safety position, having moved from wide receiver. So rather than go collect offers by camping, he decided instead to work on becoming the best safety he could be.
“I’d rather stay under the radar and perfect my craft than put myself out there trying to get a lot of attention and hurt myself, if that makes sense,” he explained. “If I go to a camp and I don’t produce as well as I want to, ‘Oh, he’s not as good’ or ‘He needs to work on this, this and this.’ So that’s really why I took the approach that I did to kind of save myself from hurting myself.”
That approach worked perfectly because the Seffner, Florida native still received all of the offers that the five-stars do, but by preparing as he did and enrolling early, he is going to have a chance to contribute in his first year as a Buckeye.
With Jim Knowles bringing in a new defense, a studious and hard-working true freshman isn’t going to be as behind as he would be if he was surrounded by veterans and this was the fourth-year of Knowles defense.
Stokes has clearly taken advantage of his improved footing and entered the spring with the same plan that landed him all of those offers in the first place.
“Hard work,” Stokes said. “And that’s a generic answer, but that’s how I got here. Hard work, putting in extra work, doing what nobody else wants to. And I feel like that’s what’s gonna get me on the field.
Before Stokes arrived, former Ohio State defensive assistant Matt Barnes told him that he needed to “come in like your life depends on it.” That’s precisely what he’s been doing since he got here and it has not only caught his coaches’ eyes, it has also resulted in big plays being made in the secondary.
With Stokes currently playing the same position as last year’s leading tackler Ronnie Hickman, regular snaps on defense this coming season may be difficult to find. That’s not going to stop him from trying, especially with how well things went this spring.
“If I do what I’m supposed to, I feel like I can be on the field and I feel like I can have a big contribution to the team,” Stokes said this winter. “But at the same time, I understand that there are older guys and they know a little more than I do, they’ve been here a little longer. So if it does take a year and if I do have to sit back and learn and develop, I’m okay with that.”