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Apr. 1—MARION — Due to COVID-19, the already long and winding road that led Xander Stokes to his current position as a starting college quarterback became even longer.
Rather than hang his head about the cancellation of the football season in the fall, the former Anderson star used that time to better prepare himself for the responsibility, and the Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats have been the beneficiaries of his talents.
Both Stokes and IWU coach Jordan Langs were optimistic about his chances of earning the job last fall. But then came the coronavirus restrictions and the cancellation of the season. Before any announcement of the resumption of football in the spring, it was a devastating development for Stokes.
"It sucked hearing that the fall was canceled," he said. "We actually had two games scheduled and going into the first game, I was quarantined. ... Both games in the fall got canceled, but Coach Langs and the staff did a good job of keeping our heads straight."
"We were hoping to play a couple games in the fall, which would have been good for the team and for Xander to get them that in-game experience," Langs said. "We kind of lost that chance to learn from mistakes and the six days between games to get better. It was disappointing for the kids and for him, but that's the hand we were dealt, and he's done a good job of taking it in stride."
When the Crossroads League decided it would play a spring football season, Stokes was given a second chance. He also used those extra months over the fall and winter to better prepare himself to start the season as IWU quarterback.
"There's no doubt that that helped him in terms of pushing the start of his career back five or six months," Langs said. "I do think ultimately for his own growth's sake, that was a good thing."
The benefit for Stokes was more about his mental preparation than it was being physically ready.
"For me being younger, it was definitely beneficial to sit with Coach T (offensive coordinator Eric Terrazas) and Coach Langs and just go through the offense," Stokes said. "I'm still learning. The coaches do a great job teaching us new things every day."
This spring, the Wildcats are 2-3 with Stokes enjoying a solid start to his career. He has completed 58% of his passes for 915 yards and six touchdowns. There have been struggles — Stokes has been intercepted five times — but Langs likes what his quarterback has done so far.
"We're real happy. We had a couple rough stretches against Marian and St. Francis where we didn't put enough points on the board," Langs said. "He's had to work through some growing pains, but he's done that, and overall we're very pleased."
Stokes enjoyed his best game in his most recent outing, a 23-0 win over Taylor. He was 24-of-33 (73%) passing for 247 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Both Langs and Stokes credited the offensive line with protecting the quarterback and allowing him to go to work.
"I understood that I was young and that there would be growing pains," Stokes said. "Coach Langs said this to me, and it's stuck with me, he said 'You don't have to be anything you're not. You're not going to be perfect. Nobody is perfect.' I kind of had that mindset going into last week, and it was one of the first games of my life where my offensive line — I didn't feel like I got touched."
Stokes is just getting started.
He is considered a redshirt freshman, meaning he will have three more years eligibility. Langs believes there are few limits to his potential.
"With the level he's coming in at, his talent, his coachability, he has the potential to be as good as anybody in the country," Langs said. "In this conference, it's the best in the country, so if you can get yourself to the top of this conference, you can be the top of anyone."
"I'm so blessed. The Lord has blessed me to be where I am," Stokes said. "I'm excited for myself. I just want to keep getting better."
Contact Rob Hunt at email@example.com or 765-640-4886.