By Charles Rich, email@example.com
12:02 PM PST, March 6, 2013
It became a familiar story line each time Bill Stokes took the field. Call it the art of intimidation.
Get to the line of scrimmage and quickly try to find a way to upset the timing of the opposing teams' offensive line before ultimately finding a hole to make life miserable for a quarterback by recording a sack.
Stokes mastered that talent throughout his high school and college careers, which included a stellar two-year stint as an outside linebacker with the Glendale Community College football team. Whatever path Stokes took to get to a hurried quarterback, it usually ended with a positive result for the Vaqueros.
The tackles and sacks piled up, forcing opponents to continuously center their game plans around Stokes.
“There was nothing better when I took the field then trying to find that hole and doing something good for my team,” said Stokes, who will be inducted into the college's athletic hall of fame Saturday along with Joe Staub, Dave Greenbaum, Hal Sears, Terry Coblentz and the 2005 men's tennis team at the college's J. Walter Smith Student Center. “We had a lot of success, but I was a small part of it.
“Whatever I had to do to make us successful and give us a chance to win, I would do.”
Stokes achieved plenty of success and praise at Glendale college, capped by helping the Vaqueros win the Potato Bowl in 1985 and earning Junior College Grid Wire All-American and All-Western State Conference honors. He still holds the program's record for most sacks in a season with 17, set in 1985.
Yet, getting to Glendale college from the neighboring San Gabriel Valley had a couple of twists and turns.
A remarkable two-sport athlete, Stokes initially planned for a lengthy career in baseball and following the path of his uncles, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. When he encountered some right-shoulder trouble while playing for the Pasadena High baseball team, Stokes needed to steer himself in a new direction.
“I've been around sports my whole life, so it was in my blood and pitching is what I wanted to do,” said Stokes, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1984. “I wanted to go and pitch at USC and then have a 20-year career.
“Things were going beautifully at Pasadena and I had scouts from the major league and colleges out at all of our games. I was throwing hard and carving out my territory to try to get to my dreams. A few games into my senior season, it just came to an end. I developed bursitis in my shoulder and it was an extreme kind of pain. I tried to lift my shoulder above my head and the pain just radiated.
“I was just 18. A scout from the Blue Jays came to my house and said they would offer me $10,000 and play rookie ball in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. I wasn't sure about that, though everybody should be happy when they are lucky enough to be drafted. Would I be happy playing first base if I went and took the offer from Toronto? I had turned down a few football scholarships. It got to the point where I really didn't have any solutions. I had to make some quick decisions.”
Stokes, who also played football at Pasadena, found higher ground in 1984. Derick Bruton, a former classmate of Stokes' from Pasadena, suggested Stokes play football and maybe baseball at Glendale college.
Glendale college turned into a perfect environment for Stokes, who played on the college's football and baseball teams.
“Derick said I should consider continuing my football career and that GCC might be a good fit for me,” said Stokes, who is a real estate investor and resides in Los Angeles. “I had never stepped foot on the campus until I had enrolled there.
“Things took off from there.”
Stokes met defensive coordinator John Cicuto, who would ultimately become head football coach from 1989-2007.
Cicuto, who joined Glendale as an assistant under head coach Jim Sartoris in 1975, worked with Stokes to further strengthen his career.
“I told coach Cicuto that I had no long-range plans playing football,” Stokes said. “I told him that I might play one football season and that I wanted to be a pro baseball player.
“He'd see me walking around the campus and meet me on a path. We'd have friendly conversations and he helped me make a decision about playing football. It's one of the best things I did listening to him.”
Cicuto, who now serves as the college's men's athletic director, recalled convincing Stokes to join the football program.
“At first, I wasn't sure if we would get him,” said Cicuto, who went 98-85-2 at Glendale college. “We'd heard a lot about him and felt like he could make a huge difference defensively for us.
“He had a lot of potential and such a great work ethic. He was a quiet guy, not a yeller or a screamer. As an outside linebacker, we thought he could fit in perfectly. We were blessed to have him there for two years and he was the best outside linebacker I've had here and I've had some good ones.”
Glendale had a successful 1984 season before things skyrocketed in 1985.
The Vaqueros would go on to have one of the best seasons in the program's history, finishing 10-1. Glendale won the conference title and finished the season ranked fifth in the nation.
Glendale appeared in the Potato Bowl against Taft at Bakersfield College's Memorial Stadium. The Vaqueros picked up a 30-24 come-from-behind victory. The Vaqueros featured four Junior College Grid Wire All-Americans, seven all-state and 22 all-conference honorees.
Glendale trailed, 21-3, in the first half before closing to within 21-17 at halftime. Taft extended its lead to 24-17 before Glendale knotted it at 24. The Vaqueros won it with 28 seconds remaining in the game when quarterback Rob Huffman tossed a touchdown pass to Jeff Jackson.
“That was such a special moment winning that game,” Stokes said. “We got that late touchdown and there was nothing more special than holding that trophy.
“The team and I played at our highest level. Being named the defensive MVP made it that much more sweet. We took care of business and we did it without being intimidated.”
Glendale averaged 35.3 points per game and yielded 14.2. The defense registered 45 turnovers, recovering 25 of 42 fumbles and intercepting 20 passes. In 11 games, the Vaqueros allowed 154 points before being inducted into the college's hall of fame in 2002.
Sartoris, who went 111-64-1 as head coach, said Stokes helped the 1985 squad stand out.
“We had a lot of great players, but he was the one who set the tone defensively,” said Sartoris, who served as head coach at Glendale from 1972-88. “Bill was the leader of our defense and he was somebody who you could always count on.
“He had that great track record for getting to the ball carrier and making a tackle. It mostly happened during the big times in a game. He raised the level of everybody else's play. Everybody fed off of him.”
Former Glendale college inside linebacker Mike Sweeney patrolled the line of scrimmage alongside Stokes during the 1985 season.
Sweeney said Stokes paved the way to shape the Vaqueros' defense.
“You knew going in that you had to pull your weight and he made that clear right from the start,” Sweeney said. “That was a talented group that had great team chemistry.
“With Bill, it came down to preparation and he showed the way for guys like myself that year. The coaching staff and Bill had everybody on the same page and we were a very tough team to beat. Bill has such a big heart and that's why he's been so successful.”
Following Glendale college, Stokes transferred to USC and played for the Trojans from 1986-87 under coaches Ted Tollner and Larry Smith. Stokes played alongside Marcus Cotton, Tim McDonald, Rodney Peete, Dave Cadigan, Erik Affholter and others.
In 22 games with USC, Stokes finished with 94 tackles and 11 sacks. In 1987, Stokes had 59 tackles, seven sacks and five pass deflections. The Trojans appeared in the Citrus Bowl in 1986 and Rose Bowl in 1987.
“I got to play with some fabulous players at USC and I had a great time,” Stokes, 46, said. “When I got to USC, I did so having had discipline instilled in me at GCC. That carried over to USC.
“With GCC, I'm very happy with what I accomplished individually and in helping my teams out. It's nice to be recognized by the college for something I took very seriously. I played sports because I loved it very much. It's what I am — an athlete.”