Penn State’s future at quarterback was already looking pretty good before this past Friday.
Five-star Drew Allar, thought by many to be the best QB in the 2022 recruiting class, is already on campus, and the Nittany Lions also have Beau Pribula, a York, Pennsylvania, native who was one of the best prep QB’s in Pennsylvania this past season.
But Penn State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich knows how to haul in talent, and that’s a big reason why, as of late last week, Penn State now has yet another QB waiting in the wings in Marcus Stokes.
The path to becoming Penn State’s starter won’t be easy, but yet, the impending presence of Allar and others didn’t complicate Stokes’s decision at all, his high school head coach said.
“I think it just says a lot about Marcus’s own confidence in his ability,” Nease High School head coach Collin Drafts said. “Everybody knows that Penn State signed arguably the No. 1 quarterback in the country. A five-star kid in the (recruiting) cycle before. That didn’t make him rethink his decision one bit.”
Drafts said that Stokes’ relationship with Yurcich, and the fact that Yurcich and Penn State offered him before any other power five schools did, was vital in Stokes committing to Penn State.
“He always felt super comfortable with him from day one,” Drafts said. Penn State was his first power five offer, and it was really before Marcus had kind of blown up, you know, and so I think that means a lot to him. With (Yurcich) saying like, ‘hey, we don’t care what he’s ranked right now, what other offers he has at the moment, we think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. At the time, Marcus didn’t have all the attention that he has now. I think that meant a lot to him.”
Stokes came into Nease’s high school program in 2019; the same year Drafts became the head coach. Located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Nease has a big program of approximately 140 kids, and freshmen almost always play on the freshman team. Stokes wasn’t an exception.
In that first year, Drafts saw that his quarterback had the chance to be a good one and noticed that he had a knack for making plays in critical situations. His feeling has turned out to be prophetic, and part of that, Drafts said, is because of Stokes’s work to improve his body.
“His freshman year, he was probably 5’10”, 150 pounds or so,” Drafts said. “You know, your average freshman coming in. And he’s every bit of almost 6-foot-2 and weights 190 now. Obviously, some of that is just the natural growth process, but he works really hard in the weight room. His body has changed, so that obviously helps the arm talent and the accuracy and all the stuff that goes along with playing quarterback, but probably most importantly, his maturity, really in the past year, has grown leaps and bounds.”
Drafts is Nease’s James Franklin, and also it’s Yurcich. Along with being the head coach, Drafts is Nease’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, so he works closely with
Stokes and saw a significant change in his quarterback when Stokes became an upperclassman.
“He came in this past season, really as the starter from day one, and just talked about how to be a leader and the intangibles that it takes to be successful at the quarterback position,” Drafts said. “It was a gradual process. Each week, he was getting a little bit better, and from game one until the end of the season, he was a completely different player.”
It showed on the field. This past year, Stokes accounted for more than 3,100 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns, leading Nease to a regional final appearance.There’s still a summer and an entire high school season ahead for Stokes to improve before Penn State. One improvement that Stokes can make, his coach said, is to fight the urge to sling the ball on every single play.
Drafts said that Stokes can throw the ball 50 yards for a big gain or a touchdown, but there are times when trying to do that can burn him.
“That attribute that he has makes him such an electric player, but it does get him in trouble at times,” Drafts said.
Drafts feels that Yurcich– who has helped Mason Rudolph and Justin Fields become widely successful at the college level– has an eye for talent, which speaks well for Stokes.
“Anytime a guy that has had so much success offensively and at that position is deadset on signing a kid, you have to figure that he knows what he’s getting from a talent standpoint, and he knows how to utilize that skill set,” Drafts said. “So I just think Marcus’s playmaking ability, one, fits what coach likes to do, and he also has the arm talent to push the ball down the field and take shots, and he’s very, very smart from a football IQ standpoint.”
Off the field, Drafts said that his quarterback has an “electric, eccentric” personality that has been an asset to him in football as well.
“Eccentric, electric, personable,” he said. “Very well-liked by all of his teammates. He’s the life of the party; he’s the supreme leader of our team. Everybody feeds off of his energy and his personality, and he really makes everybody around him better. Whether we’re talking about, obviously, on a Friday night in a game, but he’s the same way in the weight room. He’s the same way in practice. He’s the same way in meetings. He just has a great energy about him.”
Overall, Drafts is confident that Penn State fans will like Stokes as a player and as a person.
“I can easily see him end up being a fan favorite,” he said. “He has a great heart. He means well. He’s going to be a great teammate, a hard worker, and an electric player on the field.”