Spotlight On Former Athlete: Brandon Stokley - Football 1995-98
Stokley earned Hall of Fame the hard wayBy Bruce Brown
Stokley sat through the same scenario in 1999. He had accumulated every pass receiving career record in UL history, yet still wasn't sure where he stood with scouts and general managers.“It was a stressful time for me,” Stokley said. “I did not know where I was going to go. People said the third or fourth round, but you never quite know.
“The first three rounds were on the first day, then the last four the next day. I had set up a draft party for Day 2, so I wanted to go in the third and get it over with quicker.
“I had hurt my shoulder in a pro workout for Dallas and Washington, and was nervous about the impact if it should get out.”
The first day was unsuccessful.
“I wasn't picked, and I thought I was better than some of the ones who were drafted,” he said. “So I was in a bad mood. I didn't sleep well. Fortunately I got picked really quickly in the fourth round by the Ravens, and that worked out really good for me.”
Stokley battled injuries as a rookie, and was unsure of his status the next season, but he ended the 2000 campaign catching a 38-yard touchdown pass in a 34-7 Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.
He went on to play 15 years in the NFL, and on June 30 will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.
UL defensive backs Tracy Walker (Detroit, 3rd round) and Simeon Thomas (Cleveland, 6th) of the 2017 Cajuns can only hope their NFL careers end as well.
“Obviously, it means a lot to be inducted,” Stokley said. “I've been in touch with a lot of people, gotten a lot of calls and texts. I'm looking forward to it.”
Stokley's appreciation is deepened by the tenuous start he overcame, and by the hard work it took to earn the honor.
My rookie year was tough,” Stokley said. “It's your livelihood, and you're going against veterans who have done this for a long time and don't like rookies. It made me grow up quicker, makes you mentally tougher.
“I dislocated my shoulder the first week. Didn't play a lot of games and had the shoulder operated on.”
For the record, his first NFL catch was a 28-yard touchdown.
“I didn't make much of a contribution,” he added. “I realized I had to get my stuff in order. I was fortunate to make the team my second year. I was inactive 9 weeks in a row.
“They had drafted Travis Taylor in the first round, then he got hurt and I started to get more opportunities. Next thing you know, I'm scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl.”
Under-utilized in Baltimore, Stokley sought greener pastures with the Indianapolis Colts and good friend Peyton Manning in 2003. That helped produce his best single season in 2004, when he caught 68 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns, including Manning's record-breaking 49th throw.
“That touchdown was big,” Stokley said. “We knew Peyton was getting close, so it was a big deal. The game was different then. It was harder to throw the football. The touchdown was a play that we had worked on, but wasn't in the game plan.
“Peyton said 'run this,' I ran the route and it was perfect – right on a dime. There wasn't a lot of time left in the game. We scored, got a two-point conversion to tie it and won in overtime.
“It wasn't just going for the record. We needed that score. So it means even more. It's more special.”
Stokley added, “It wasn't til I got to the Colts that I felt I belonged and had a role, was able to say 'I got this.' I played at a high level was able to contribute.”
On the road again
Stokley moved again in 2007, joining the Denver Broncos as one of the most reliable slot receivers in the game.
He had some bright moments there, as well, including an 87-yard catch-and-run TD to stun Cincinnati in the 2009 opener on the road. The ball was intended for Brandon Marshall, but it glanced off his hands and Stokley plucked it out of the air for the unlikely game-winner.
“That catch sums up my career,” Stokley said. “I expected to have a defender around me, but there was nobody there. There were 12 seconds left (Stokley milked more time off the clock by running horizontally at the end of the play).
“It was shocking. Cool. Fun to be a part of.”
After 3 years in Denver, Stokley joined the Seahawks and helped knock the Saints out of the playoffs in 2010. In 2012, he teamed up with Manning for a productive season with the Broncos again. A swan song in Baltimore closed the book on 397 catches for 5,339 yards and 39 touchdowns.
“They were all special,” he said. “I learned from every situation. Had great times, coaches and teammates. Some situations were tougher, but it helped make me who I am.”
Cajuns' homegrown star
UL fans were accustomed to seeing dramatic, acrobatic catches from Stokley, who remains the school's leader in catches (241), yards (3,702) and touchdowns (25) some 20 years after he played in college for his father Nelson.
Stokley combined with quarterback Jake Delhomme for some special moments, such as a 37-yard touchdown to beat Tulane 32-28 in the Superdome in 1995, outscoring rival La. Tech 40-33 at Cajun Field one week later and shredding Tech's defense for 190 yards and two scores in a 37-31 win in Ruston in 1996.
“(Fellow HOF inductee) Lewis Cook put me in the backfield for that play at Tulane,” Stokley said. “It was fourth down. Tulane blew the coverage, I adjusted the route and Jake found me. UL-Tulane was a special game to go to, and play in. It still gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.
“Then the back-to-back games, home and away, against Tech stand out to me. We had to come back in both of them. We beat Texas A&M (29-22 in 1996), and that was great, but I wouldn't trade those three (Tulane, Tech, Tech) for anything.”
First things first
Stokley, who overcame a knee injury as a UL junior, was a self-made player who led the state's high schools in receiving in his only year of varsity action at Comeaux.
Too small and underestimated, he still prevailed with a simple approach.
“I'm not going to run very far,” he said. “First things first. Catch the ball. That always came naturally to me. My job was to convert third downs, I had a niche, a role, and tried to perfect it.
“I was open to what I was asked to do. I was coachable. If I did that, I figured I might last for a little while.”
Life after football good for Stokley clan By Bruce Brown
Brandon Stokley's induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame next month will be special for Brandon, his wife Lana and their two sons.Just don't ask Brandon to keep track of the buildup.
“It's a little too much for me,” Stokley said with a laugh. “Lana is handling most of that. It's too complicated for me.”
“I'm kind of the boss around here,” Lana Stokley said. “I tell him where to go, what to do, what's going on. I'm the house manager. The kids (Cameron and Carson) are both into sports. There's never a dull moment.”
Especially next month.
The June 30 induction gala caps three days of HOF activities in Natchitoches and Lana, a former softball All-American at UL in her own right, will guide the family's participation.
“There is a big lot of people coming,” Lana said. “We have 50 right now in our group. I didn't realize how much goes into it. There are four days of events. I have to know who comes to that, who goes to this.
“The family will be there. They all still live in Louisiana. We're the ones who have to travel. I love that the kids get to participate.”
Inductees are asked to supply items from their careers for display, and so far Brandon's Comeaux High and UL jerseys have been located along with special pictures.
One of those photos is of beloved grandfather Causey Hamic, the first to call when Brandon got the news last fall. Hamic passed away in January, but he and Brandon's late parents are in the family's thoughts.
Added to the equation is that former Colts teammate Reggie Wayne is also in this induction class, along with former UL assistant coach Lewis Cook, who helped devise ways to use Stokley.
Brandon and Lana were both members of the UL Athletic Hall of Fame's Class of 2008, and are sharing another such moment.
“It's well deserved,” Lana said. “He worked so hard, and I don't think he always got the recognition he deserved. He was an under-the-radar type of guy.
“(As an athlete herself), I really do understand what he's gone through coming back from injuries. Since I first met him (at UL), I was blown away by his dedication and drive in everything he did.
“People said he only played because he was the coach's (Nelson's) son, but he deserved everything he got. I've never met a harder worker. He was never distracted by what went on around him.
“Every time he got hurt, he had a great year the next year. That's hard to do. I know.”
Since his last NFL season in 2013, Stokley has carved out a career in sports talk radio in the Denver area. He also enjoys golf. But this fall he's going to coach his specialty.
“I'm going to be the receivers coach at Valor High School,” he said. “Ed McCaffrey is the head coach. There's a high level of talent there, and commitment to succeed,
“I had helped out at smaller schools, but this will be interesting. We'll see if it's something I want to do.”
McCaffrey's son, Christian, plays for the Carolina Panthers, another son, Max, is an NFL receiver like his father, and third son Dylan is a sophomore quarterback at Michigan.
With sons of his own, and having played for his father at UL, Stokley can appreciate the father-son coaching dynamic.
“I'm as much involved with them as I can be,” said Stokley, who also appreciates life in general.
“Denver turned out to be the perfect place for us to settle. We got here and said we don't want to leave. My time after football has been special.”
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