Eric Stokes played high school football at Lincoln East and seemed a natural recruit for Nebraska.
“Actually, funny thing, I committed to Iowa,” said Stokes, who played for the Huskers from 1993-96. “I thought so many local guys were walking on and I didn’t know if I’d fit in.
“Once I was there, in my hometown, nothing but playing at Nebraska ever crossed my mind. Well, there were times I struggled, but it all worked out in the end.”
Stokes battled injuries in 1993, and in the spring of 1994, he had a hip injury. Doctors discovered a tumor on his pelvic bone. There was discussion about him never playing again, never running. He had bone-graft surgery and was out of any action and on crutches for three months.
He bounced back to play a significant role on the 1995 national championship team.
“We were good, but we never knew how good,” he said.
“We played. We practiced and we kept winning, but I don’t think anybody on that roster thought we were doing anything special, other than winning by a lot,” said Stokes, who played defensive back. “At the time, we just played. Looking back, we think, and for good reason, we were the best there ever was.”
Stokes is an assistant general manager for the Miami Dolphins after stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks.
He grew up in Lincoln. He earned Journal Star Super-State honors and was a high school All-American. By his sophomore year at Nebraska (1994), he was heavily involved in the famous Blackshirt defense.
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“Almost all of us were playing to live up to the guys who played before us,” he said. “They set the bar pretty high when we did everything but win the title in 1993. Then we won the next two years. We tried to reach that goal in practices, lifting, playing and everything else.”
To that end, practices became famous for hitting, absolute competition a couple of times a week, every week.
“The competition during the week was fierce and everybody was playing at this level of, ‘You can’t beat me on Tuesday, nobody is going to beat us in games on Saturday,’” Stokes said. “It wasn’t always roses — I mean, guys really getting after each other during the week — some fights and stuff, but always together once we left the field.”
Stokes started two games at safety and played in 11 in 1995 after Michael Booker took over as starter.
“I wasn’t happy about losing my starting position, but I played as hard as I could and in 1996 started every game and had a good season (45 tackles, two for loss, an interception, five breakups and a quarterback hurry). I think losing my starting position in 1995 pushed me to work harder than ever.
“When practice was done, I’d go to my frat, study and just try to relax with Booker, Troy Dumas, Donta Jones, and try to get back to earth after going so hard every day,” he said.
The off-field problems of Lawrence Phillips, Riley Washington and others galvanized the team to stick together, Stokes said.
“It was not smooth sailing and we had those issues and a lot of national attention for the wrong reasons. But we stuck together.
“I don’t know if there’ll ever be a team like that again.”