Doctoring comes natural for John Stokes

John Stokes’ football career is winding to a close, but he’s about to embark on another much more important career.

Stokes, Vanderbilt’s senior outside linebacker, plans on being a doctor. He was accepted into the Vanderbilt School of Medicine as a sophomore through the school’s early acceptance program.

Only a miniscule number of Vanderbilt sophomores are accepted into the program each year. To remain in the program, students have to maintain a 3.5 GPA while fulfilling their pre-med requirements.

It’s the kind of curriculum that isn’t for just anybody.

But imagine playing SEC football and trying to keep up with that kind of academic schedule.

Stokes doesn’t have to imagine. He’s done it for the last two years and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

“This football team had a lot higher hopes, and I’m not going to sit here and say anybody is happy with the way this season has gone,” said Stokes, who’s third on Vanderbilt’s team with 69 total tackles. “But I love the people here, love my teammates, love this staff and love this school.

“It’s a great school, and I have great relationships with my professors and great friends. I’m a stronger, tougher person for having played football in the SEC and then going to class Monday through Friday at an institution the caliber of Vanderbilt and doing the best I can in both of those.

“I’m going to walk out of here absolutely happy, not necessarily with the way it’s gone in football, but with the experience as a whole.”

Stokes is scheduled to start med school in August 2011, although he has the option to defer enrollment for two years.

He may take a peek at making an NFL roster as a deep snapper, which was one of his duties for the Commodores until he tore a tendon in his pinkie finger.

“I haven’t really looked into it, to see if it’s an option or if I’m good enough,” Stokes said. “I plan on at least finding out what my chances are.”

While snapping footballs may be in his immediate future, helping people is where his heart is.

His desire to be a doctor only intensified this past May when he traveled to South Africa with his brother, Will, and spent four weeks working on AIDS relief and prevention through the United States Agency for International Development.

“It was neat to see the potential doctors have to really, really help people, and that’s what excites me the most about medicine,” Stokes said.

The South African trip was Stokes’ first medical out-of-the country experience, but hardly his first mission trip.

He’s been to Belize two different times during his time at Vanderbilt as part of Manna Project International, a nonprofit organization started at Vanderbilt that offers aid to Central America. Stokes serves on the campus group’s executive board.

“It was important to me to be as involved as I possibly could,” Stokes said. “When I was in South Africa, I dealt first-hand with people who were struggling and hurting, and to be able to change somebody’s life in a positive way is why you get into the medical field.”

Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said Stokes personifies what a student-athlete is supposed to be.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around one in 35 years of coaching like John,” Caldwell said. “Matter of fact, I know I haven’t. He’s a leader on and off the field, in the locker room and in the community. You name it, and he’s done it. He’s an honor student and never missed anything football-related that I know of. When you’re a pre-med student, you could have all kinds of excuses, particularly here at Vanderbilt, but not John.

“Words can’t describe what he’s meant to our program. I mean this in the utmost way, but he’s been the Mother Teresa of football. He gives his effort, his energy, everything he has to make other people’s lives better.”