National Signing Day: UWF Lands Former Florida QB Commitment Stokes In Signing Class
Kaleb Nobles never shied from bold decisions as a quarterback or a play-caller during his previous time at the University of West Florida.
In his first signing class as a head coach, the new Argos leader didn’t hesitate on courting former Florida Gators quarterback commitment Marcus Stokes, whose video uttering a racial slur caused the Gators to drop him and other Division I teams to back off recruiting him.
Stokes, a St. Augustine Nease High senior, who was rated the No. 14 quarterback prospect in the nation by one recruiting publication entering this season, visited UWF a week ago with family, then signed Wednesday with the Argos as part of a 15-player signing class.
“We brought him in and we really didn’t talk much football. It was just about everything that has gone on with him in the past and just making sure his (public) apology was sincere,” said Nobles, who was UWF’s quarterback for the Argos’ inaugural season in 2016, then transitioned to UWF assistant coach and spent the past two years on Dabo Swinney’s staff at Clemson in an offensive player development role.
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“We feel good about the person we are getting, more important the player.” said Nobles, who was hired December 12 to replace Pete Shinnick, after Shinnick accepted the head coaching vacancy at NCAA Division I member Towson State in Baltimore. Shinnick led the Argos to a historic Division II national title in 2019 as the youngest start-up program at any collegiate level to go from first season to championship title in four years.
“(Stokes) has been through a lot as far as recruiting,” Nobles said. “We feel he’s a really good addition as a person. We feel the talent is there, but we feel the talent is there with every one of these kids.”
Nobles said he met with returning UWF players who were on the team’s leadership council and received their approval in pursuing and signing Stokes. In mid-November, a video surfaced on social media of Stokes singing a rap song with racial slurs while in his car.
It caused Florida head coach Billy Napier to drop his scholarship offer. Stokes issued an apology saying, “I deeply apologize for the words in the song that I chose to say. It was hurtful and offensive to many people and I regret that. I fully accept the consequences for my actions and I respect the University of Florida’s decision to withdraw my scholarship offer to play football.”
As a junior at Nease, the same high school that Tim Tebow starred as a dual-threat quarterback, Stokes passed for 2,672 yards, rushed for 496 yards and combined 28 touchdowns in leading Nease to its first state region final appearance in 13 years. He originally committed to Penn State, then flipped to Florida in October.
After the fallout, he was offered by Division I member Albany (Ga.) State, a Historical Black College and University (HBCU), which then withdrew the offer after the school’s head coach learned of the video and received pushback.
UWF athletic director Dave Scott said a collective decision from UWF’s upper-level administration, athletic department and football players, led UWF to giving Stokes a second-chance opportunity with the Argos.
“For us, our coaching staff and our student-athletes fully support bringing Marcus on as part of the team,” Scott said. “His sincere public apology earned him that consideration for us. At UWF we want to have an inclusive and respectful environment for all our students.
“And part of our slogan is building champions for life, so we want to develop our student-athletes to be better citizens and good members of society. (In meeting with him) we just to make sure he was going to meet the standards we have at the University of West Florida to be good members of society and continue to grow as a person.”
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In joining UWF, Stokes will compete in the fall with returning UWF quarterback Peewee Jarrett, who passed for 2,719 yards and 33 touchdowns, rushed for 762 yards and nine touchdowns, while leading the Argos to the NCAA Division II playoff semifinals.
“We went through a lot of different conversations to make sure everybody knew and understood what this looked like and that we were all on the same page,” said Nobles, 28, a Fitzgerald, Georgia native and one of the youngest head coaches at any level of college football. He was mentored by Shinnick as a graduate assistant coach, then quarterbacks coach before moving to Clemson.
Nobles’ father, Buddy Nobles, was an ultra-successful high school coach in Florida and Georgia before passing away.
Kaleb Nobles quickly assumed recruiting duties when hired as UWF head coach. His signing class includes two Gulf Breeze High players, placekicker Cade Lombardo, a senior, and mammoth offensive lineman Joseph Stone (6-6, 330), a transfer from Middle Tennessee State who is already enrolled.
The Argos will start spring practice on Feb. 15 and hold their spring game the first week of March before classes let out for spring break. The Argos recruiting class reflects a wide reach throughout Florida with players from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Ocala, Tallahassee, Jacksonville (Middleburg) and Lakeland.
“We cast a wide net, and bring in as many guys as you can and watch them, and be able to sign who you like the best,” said Nobles, explaining his recruiting strategy.
“It was awesome (as head coach recruiting),” Nobles said. “It was as good of an experience as the past month and a half has been. It was great feeling that we have a lot of great young men being added.
“To be able to be the head coach and have a lot of conversations with families, moms, dads, brothers and sisters the past month, it’s pretty cool. It’s been a great experience. It is a really good class as far as high academic kids who have good test scores and GPA. The big things is the great families we met. A lot of families who came in and really embraced the culture we are going to build.”
Nobles said that Clemson’s Dabo Swinney told him to make sure “just to be yourself, be who you are” as a head coach as he advised and helped Nobles make the transition to this role at UWF.
“I don’t know if there has been enough time to think about it, because it’s been such a whirlwind,” said Nobles, who returned to Clemson late Wednesday to complete his final move to Pensacola with is wife, Katy, a former UWF volleyball player. “But really a lot of good reflection on my experiences being around the great coaches that I have been around and just slowing down and understanding the moment.”
UWF LOI SIGNEES WEDNESDAY
Donovan Barnes, DB, 5-10, 185 (Tallahassee, Florida State University School)
Jamari Dickens, WR, 6-3, 185 (Wildwood (Fla) HS)
Joshua Doan, DB, 6-0, 180 (Tampa, Wharton HS)
Ernest Flythe, DB, 6-1,170 (Ocala, Belleview HS)
Norman Gadsden II, DB, 6-3, 185 (Fort Lauderdale, Stranahan HS)
Tre Kemmerlin, WR, 6-3, 170 (Enterprise, Ala. HS)
T.J. Lane, RB, 5-10, 195 (Middleburg, Fla. HS)
Cade Lombardo, PK, 5-10, 175 (Gulf Breeze HS)
Johnnie Perdue, DL, 6-2, 289 (Daphne, Ala. HS)
Robert Riley, LB, 6-3, 190 (Lakeland HS)
Marcus Stokes, QB, 6-2, 185 (St. Augustine, Nease HS)
Ed Williams, DB, 6-4, 185 (Miami, Coral City HS)
Justin Mathieu, DB, 6-2, 190 (Naples, St. John Neumann Catholic, Univ. of Sioux Falls transfer)
Kevin Quinn, QB, 6-2, 205 (Fort Walton Beach HS, Georgia Military transfer)
Joseph Stone, OL, 6-6, 330 (Gulf Breeze HS, Middle Tennessee State transfer)
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: NSD: UWF Lands Former Florida QB Commitment Marcus Stokes In Signing Class