Stokley points to inspiration

Ravens rookie receiver honors his late mother after making big plays

August 16, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley had a million reasons not to suit up for Southwestern Louisiana's game against Tulane on Halloween afternoon last fall.

He played despite attending his mother's funeral just five days earlier.

That would have been reason enough to sit out. Now throw in that Stokley was fighting an illness that kept him out of practice all that week. Plus, he was playing for a school that was 1-6 and he was becoming irritated with the criticism of the coach, who happened to be his father, Nelson Stokley. It is safe to say nobody would have raised an eyebrow if he would have sat out that week.

"That was a real tough week," Brandon Stokley said. "My mom [Jane Hamick] was my biggest supporter. When she passed, that was tough. But those are the times in your life that you've got to fight through."

Stokley played and he played well -- making seven receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the 72-20 loss. All well and good for Stokley, but the most memorable event from his day in the Louisiana Superdome, and what Ravens fans would like to see a lot of this season, is his salute to his mother after every big play.

In his debut for the Ravens on Thursday, a 10-7 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Stokley made a touchdown reception, a 10-yard completion from Tony Banks.

"I give thanks to the Lord for all his blessings that he put on me, and the sign is to [his mother]," said Stokley, who finished with three catches for 45 yards against the Eagles. "It is definitely for her. I strive to go out there and do better every day. She was my biggest fan. I want to go out there and work even harder."

So when coach Brian Billick yelled at Stokley for missing a block in practice earlier this camp, it didn't faze him because he's been through worse. He also understands what coaches are trying to do because he went through it in five seasons with his father.

Stokley knows the constant pressure and criticism coaches take when things don't go well. He watched as his father suffered through a 1-10 season his junior year in which the team lost its best receiver, Stokley, to a knee injury in the fourth game for the season.

Things didn't go much better his senior season, as Southwestern Louisiana finished 2-9, and his father stepped down as coach.

"The situation was that we were father and son, and that made things difficult for him to handle," Nelson Stokley said. "But Brandon's faith carries him through. He feels that things always work out for the best."

The positive out of that situation is that now Nelson Stokley will have a chance to watch and critique his son's play, like he did Thursday, without having to worry about drawing up his own game plans. Nelson Stokley said he can see the quickness and speed have returned to his son's game.

Despite being a coach's son, Brandon Stokley said his father never pushed him to play football, or treated him any differently than anyone else. In fact, Nelson Stokley was the only college coach willing to give his son a chance.

Stokley said he didn't receive any college scholarships coming out of high school except for the one put on the table by USL. He redshirted his first season, then set a Division I-A freshman season record with 75 receptions the next season while not starting any games. He had 65 catches for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns, catching passes from four different quarterbacks last season. He ended his college career holding every receiving record at USL.

The Ravens took Stokley with their first pick in the fourth round in this year's draft.

"He's got a real good athletic build in terms of being able to run and jump," said Phil Savage, director of college scouting for the Ravens. "The No. 1 factor that drew us to him was his production. His team did not have a lot of success. Yet he was in every game and produced. He was a record-setter at USL in a really adverse situation."

And now he may be the answer to a Ravens receiving corps that is looking for someone, other than Jermaine Lewis, to make plays consistently.

"Brandon is having a very good camp," wide receivers coach Milt Jackson said. "He's been slowed by a shoulder injury. Other than that, when he's practiced and played, he's played well. He's going to be a good receiver. He's got excellent hands, excellent quickness."

Whether he can beat out Qadry Ismail, Floyd Turner, Justin Armour or any of the other Ravens receivers for that starting spot seems almost inconsequential considering what he's gone through the past 10 months.

"I'd know she would want me to keep going and play hard," Stokley said of his mother. "That is all I do every day. I think about her and play for her."

Ravens camp

When: Through Aug. 26

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Directions from Baltimore: Take Interstate 695 to Exit 19 to I-795 north to its end. Follow signs to Westminster via Route 140 west to Route 31 south. At blinking yellow light, turn left (Route 31). At first traffic light, turn left on Main Street. Proceed up the hill. The parking entrance is on the left.

Information: 410-261-FANS

Pub Date: 8/16/99

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