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In 1999, after an injury ended his two-year NFL career, Eric Stokes had a rare professional experience: Two job offers that came his way within hours of each other ... one an opportunity to help his alma mater as a defensive graduate assistant at Nebraska and the other a chance to stay in Seattle and help scout players for the NFL team that drafted him in the fifth round. "I couldn't believe it when I heard about both offers on the same day," Stokes said Thursday afternoon. "My wife told me that day there was no way I was going to turn down the Nebraska job. She knew how much the program meant to me, and we both knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That's where I was leaning at first, but I wanted to talk to some people and get some more feedback before making a decision."
For Stokes, his wife and his three daughters (ages 11, 8 and 6), a one-day delay proved to be a smart move because on Wednesday, Eric Stokes - NFL player, scout and front-office executive with the Seattle Seahawks since he left Nebraska in 1997 - is now Eric Stokes, the new director of college scouting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I'm glad I waited a day to make that decision in 1997," he said, admitting it was one of those times when he went with his head instead of his heart. "I ended up talking to a lot of coaches that day and a lot of people in scouting. The more I listened, the more I learned and the more I understood how unique scouting really is."
The difference between two promising career opportunities boiled down to one word - stability. "I think it proved true," Stokes said. "Frank Solich had just finished his first year as head coach, and Craig Bohl (Nebraska's former defensive coordinator) was the defensive coordinator who offered me the job. They both ended up leaving Nebraska, but I still remember how tough making that phone call to Coach Bohl was. A few years later, he told one of my bosses that he wanted me to be his secondary coach someday. That didn't work out, but for me, scouting was a good way to go."
Stokes will never forget intercepting a North Texas State pass in his first game as a redshirt freshman free safety in 1994. "It was a unique time on a special championship team," he said, explaining how he shared time with Mike Minter and Tony Veland on back-to-back national championship teams before starting every game in '96 when the Huskers beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. "I was a good player on great teams," Stokes said. "Since I've left Lincoln, I've seen a lot of pro football and college football players, and I will still say this: I would put that 1995 team up against any team at any time."
A Lincoln East graduate and NU scholarship recruit, Stokes did not go looking for his new job at Tampa Bay. Rather, it came looking for him - a fitting reward for someone who was an area scout, an assistant scout in the pro personnel department and the Seahawks' assistant director of college scouting. "I spent 13 years in the Seahawks organization as a player and scout, and I was really settled in," Stokes said. "Tampa Bay flew me out a week ago last Wednesday. I accepted the job offer last Friday, and we announced it yesterday. You never know what's going to happen in scouting, but I always thought it was a job right up my alley. You get to talk football, talk shop, scout players and evaluate every aspect about them. It's been a process. When I turned down the job at Nebraska, I was absolutely torn. But everything has lined up and worked out well. I have zero regret." We assume he's talking about his heart and his head. "That's right," he said, "and I'm extremely happy about that."
He's also happy that three Huskers will be in Tampa Bay's training camp - safety Larry Asante, linebacker Lavonte David and offensive tackle Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick. "I'm eager to meet 'em and talk to 'em," Stokes said. "I'm sure we all have some good stories to share."
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