Promising prospects

JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In 1985, Ron Stokes was considered one of the top football players in Philadelphia. He was a two-time All-Public selection and also earned All-City and All-State honors at Germantown High School.

After participating in the Philadelphia Daily News All-Star Game that same year, Stokes caught the eye of recruiters and eventually earned a scholarship to play football at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nowadays, the college-recruitment game is a little different. Advances in technology have certainly played a pivotal role — now student athletes can gain national exposure with the click of a button — to make the process more widespread and competitive.

“When I was an up-and-coming player, we didn’t have the things these kids have today that really help them get exposure,” said Stokes. “When I was coming up, I worked very hard, but one of my faults was being very overzealous without a lot of knowledge.”

That’s no longer a problem.

Stokes has gained a wealth of knowledge from his experiences as a student athlete and, more recently, through his two sons — Je’Ron and Malik — who played at Northeast High School and now are playing college ball.

“My wife (Juanitta) and I, we’re like any other parents with athletes that are excelling. We’re trying to get the exposure and get them to the next level,” explained Stokes. “In the process, we saw and met a lot of other parents in our very own back yard and players on our kids’ team who weren’t getting that exposure but were talented.

“These kids were falling through the cracks,” he added. “Me and my wife said we could really help them with the knowledge that we obtained through the years. Not all parents are aware of the process. We wanted to educate them and put them in a position to succeed.”

And with that idea, Top Prospect Sports was born.

The Mayfair company started in January 2010, however, according to Stokes, the process started long before that. The overall goal is to offer insight into the recruiting and scouting process and help student-athletes gain the knowledge and experience to succeed at the next level.

“We develop relationships with coaches on a regular basis. They call and ask who I have in this region,” explained Stokes. “I do college tours and take kids to various universities throughout the summer months to participate in summer camps.

“We also run events,” he added. “Player-development programs consist of a college tour, but you don’t have to be in a program to participate. There’s also speed and agility training and workout camps to help the kids develop.”

Top Prospect Sports offers a wealth of services on a national level, including highlight-tape editing, recruiting packages, camps and combines, and college tours. While their headquarters is in Mayfair, the business has teamed with Velocity Sports Performance, a state-of-the-art facility on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, N.J., for hands-on training.

“We’re starting to kick off performance-preparation programs for high school and recruiting combines for kids to get recognized and get attention from college programs,” said Velocity Sports Performance partner Cary Huggard. “We’ve been in business for nine years. We’re expanding into communities in the South Jersey and Philadelphia areas. Our goal is to provide training that helps to develop kids athletically and mentally.”

“This kind of training is similar to the training college players do to prepare for the NFL combine,” added Stokes. “Professionals train at these types of facilities. They have state-of-the-art equipment and certified personal trainers. I partnered with them because my sons trained there. I believe in it strongly and I saw what it did for my kids and their development.”

Je’Ron and Malik Stokes have built their own success on the gridiron. The brothers first made a name for themselves with the Northeast High School football team.

Je’Ron, a wide receiver who played for the Vikings for two years and graduated in 2009, finished with a total of 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns.

His younger brother Malik, a quarterback and four-year starter who graduated the following year, had an overall 27–20 record (12–6 in league play) with the Vikings, with 37 touchdown passes. He also claimed the Public League career record for passing yards with 4,170.

“With Je’Ron, his story was complex because he transferred from Penn Charter. No one knew about him when he transferred to Northeast High School,” the father explained. “I did some research on how the recruiting process works. I realized that going to these college campuses and participating in the camp circuit was becoming the new trend.”

And with that, the Stokes family planned their first trip to a showcase in Tallahassee, Fla. It was the first of many trips, including travels to Columbus, Ohio and San Antonio, Texas.

“Once Je’Ron went around the circuit, they started to write huge things about him. They didn’t have anything to go by as far as highlight tapes,” said Stokes. “They just knew what they saw at the camps. Before he even started his junior year, his reputation skyrocketed. It was a heavy demand on him to perform. He began to get ranked nationally before he even did anything locally.”

Je’Ron was up for the challenge. He had an extremely successful senior season at Northeast High, and, as a result, received more than 30 college scholarship offers.

“We had college coaches sitting in our living room expressing how bad they wanted him in their program,” his father recalled. “Now with Malik, it was the opposite. He plays that one position (quarterback), which is the most prestigious position.”

Malik’s stellar skills in the QB role became both a blessing and a curse for the young player. In the recruiting process, most colleges will take four or five wide receivers, but there usually is only one open QB spot on most college rosters.

As an alternative, Malik chose to attend a prep school — Taft School in Watertown, Conn. — before transferring to Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio. He now plays for the Division I Falcons.

Je’Ron committed early to the University of Tennessee. However, after some abrupt changes to the Volunteers coaching staff, he had second thoughts. He attended the University of Michigan instead, playing the 11 games in the 2010 season for the Wolverines.

Last year, after more undesirable coaching changes, Je’Ron opted to play alongside his brother once again by transferring to Bowling Green State University.

“Michigan had a lot of problems because they fired their coach and that left us in an awkward position,” explained Stokes. “We decided to transfer, and Bowing Green opened their arms to Je’Ron. It’s a blessing to us, having them both together again.”

Stokes started his company, Top Prospect Sports, as a result of his sons’ experiences with college recruitment. He explained that it has grown by leaps and bounds in its first year.

One local success story is fellow Northeast High alum Deion Barnes, who received 14 college scholarship offers as a senior in 2011. He visited college campuses with Top Prospect Sports and now plays at Penn State University.

“I really enjoyed myself on the Michigan trip,” Barnes stated. “Watching them on TV and seeing them in person was like a dream come true because before I got involved with the Top Prospect group, I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to see anything like that.

ldquo;I was also able to bond with guys from the New Jersey area and different parts of the tri-state,” he added. “That can be beneficial for all of us, because if we all are getting scouted, there is a chance some of us sign to the same school and can already be familiar with someone.”

Avery Sebastian, a defensive back from McDonough, Ga., also sought the services of Top Prospect Sports. After receiving more than 30 scholarship offers, he decided to go to the University of California.

“The most important thing is, you have to impart education to these young men,” said Stokes. “We are adamant to teach the kids and parents the most important aspect of this whole process is to allow your athletic ability to catapult you to further your education.

“You’ll spend more time utilizing that degree than your athletic abilities,” he continued. “We have a mentorship program where I try to teach these men goals and core values of selflessness, character, integrity, dedication, sacrifice and teamwork. We want to develop them into a leader.” ••

Top Prospect Sports and Velocity Sports Performance are holding a free training session for athletes ages 12 and up on Jan. 7 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Velocity Sports, 2005 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, N.J. 08003. Players must call to reserve their spot. For more information, call 267–343–7606 or visit www.topprospectsports.net