Stoked about his pro future


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David Stokes had always wanted to play professionally and he knew that Major League Soccer, with its Nike Project-40 program in place, could provide that opportunity now.

But the deciding factor in the Hylton High School graduate’s decision to forgo his senior year at the University of North Carolina and turn pro was his involvement with the United States Under-23 National Team.

The U-23 coaching staff told Stokes that he would have a better chance of making the team that will attempt to qualify for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens if he developed his skills as a professional rather than spending another year in college.

That ended any lingering questions in his mind about what course to take. Stokes signed with MLS, making himself available for the league’s SuperDraft, which takes place next Friday from 3:30-7:30 p.m. in Kansas City. He is one of 12 players from this year’s Project-40 class.

“The [U-23] coaches stressed the importance of being in a professional environment,” Stokes said.

Stokes left today for Florida, where he will compete in a three-day MLS Player Combine designed to evaluate the draft prospects.

Stokes was told by his agent that if he does well at the combine, he should be a first-round pick. Stokes, though, won’t be present at the draft because he leaves Monday for Portugal, where he will compete with the U-23s in a week-long series of games against reserve squads from Portugal as well as a game against the U-23 Russian National Team.

Stokes, who has been competing with the U-23s for a year, said he had been thinking about turning pro for awhile, but it wasn’t until after his final game this past season with the Tar Heels in November that he informed North Carolina coach Elmer Bolowich of his decision.

Along with Logan Pause, Stokes is one of two Tar Heel players who are part of this year’s Project-40 class. Stokes had talked to two former UNC players who are in the MLS, including North Stafford High School graduate Chris Carrieri. Carrieri also came out as a junior and was the first overall pick by San Jose in 2001.

Stokes then sat down with his parents and went over all the details.

“They are big on education and they were concerned about me getting a degree,” said Stokes, who by participating in Project-40 gets an educational stipend to help him finish up his college course work. “I let them know what I was thinking and they told me it was my decision.”

Project-40 was formed in 1997 by MLS and U.S. Soccer to develop young soccer players by giving them the chance to compete on a professional level on a daily basis.

Stokes started all 71 games of his three-year career at North Carolina. A defender, Stokes’ most accomplished season was in 2001 when he was the Defensive MVP of the NCAA College Cup and helped lead the Tar Heels to the national title.

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