40 years after playing, SEC's first black kicker watches Derrick Brodus with pride

First black Vandy player filled gaps with degree

John Russell/Vanderbilt University
Taylor Stokes was the first Vanderbilt black football player in the late 1960s-early '70s who returned to school and completed his degree.

Photo by John Russell, Vanderbilt University

John Russell/Vanderbilt University Taylor Stokes was the first Vanderbilt black football player in the late 1960s-early '70s who returned to school and completed his degree.

Photo with no caption

Photo by John Russell

MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee kicker Derrick Brodus, center, watches his kick against Georgia on Saturday in Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee kicker Derrick Brodus, center, watches his kick against Georgia on Saturday in Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

John Russell/Vanderbilt University
Taylor Stokes was the first Vanderbilt black football player in the late 1960s-early '70s who returned to school and completed his degree.

Photo by John Russell

John Russell/Vanderbilt University Taylor Stokes was the first Vanderbilt black football player in the late 1960s-early '70s who returned to school and completed his degree.

When Tennessee kicker Derrick Brodus booted four field goals and five extra points through the uprights a few weeks ago against Akron, tying a Tennessee school record for points, Taylor Stokes read about the accomplishments with a smile.

Brodus, a walk-on from Alcoa High School, wore No. 42, a selection that he said was entirely coincidental. But the jersey number of Jackie Robinson — retired and revered at every baseball stadium in America — drove home what many assumed: Brodus was the first black place-kicker to participate in an SEC game.

Not so.

In 1969, Stokes became the first black to play football at Vanderbilt. He also was a talented place-kicker. Forty years removed from his college career, he still has a passion for the game.

"I still get excited every time I turn on the TV," he said from his home in Pleasantville. "I call plays. I read defenses. I love the game. I think I'll be like that until I close my eyes for the last time."

So when friends alerted him to Brodus, Stokes paid particularly close attention.

"Now I'm a fan of Derrick's — except when he plays the black and gold, of course," Stokes said, referring to Vanderbilt's colors. "I wish the young man nothing but success. And my prayer is we won't have to wait this long between African-American kids kicking and participating from that position."

Today, blacks are well represented at every position on the football field, a fact that gave Stokes great pride when he returned to Vanderbilt in 2007 to finish his degree.

But today, much like 40 years ago, there are few if any black kickers.

"There weren't many then and there aren't many now," Stokes said.

Stokes was a talented athlete in Clarksville, who had a passion for baseball but found his true calling in football. He was a talented high school receiver, but most college teams were attracted to him because of his kicking ability.

Whereas Brodus and many of today's kickers come to football through soccer, that sport was still all but nonexistent in the South 40 years ago.

"As far as the kicking part goes, I kind of just fell into it," Stokes said. "I used to just goof around on my street with some kids. They used to hold the ball for me, and I would kick it over the telephone wire. Of course, it was an anomaly then to have a black kicker in any high school game, but I really took pride in being good at what I did.

"When I was in high school, all of my kickoffs used to go down to the 2- or 3-yard line or inside the end zone, then I'd try to go down and make a tackle. I really enjoyed kicking, but I considered myself to be a football player."

The high point of Stokes' Vandy career came in 1971, when he went 15-for-15 on extra points, including seven in one game against Mississippi State, which was a school record for more than 20 years.

Stokes arrived at Vanderbilt during one of the most socially tumultuous years in modern American history. As a black from a small town, he admitted he wasn't fully prepared for the racial and class divides that marked his college experience.

"I left Vanderbilt not in the most pleasant of states," he said. "I had unfinished business."

Stokes moved east, started a successful business, married, divorced and remarried. And eventually his path came back to Tennessee, not far from where he grew up. His wife Chandra knew that there was a gap in his life from those college years.

"Even though I had success in other areas, there were still parts of me that didn't feel like I had accomplished what I wanted to in parts of my personal life," he said. "The episode at Vanderbilt still remained open ... Chandra really encouraged me to take a good, hard look at tying up some loose ends."

So in 2007, he returned to campus, a nearly 60-year-old student trying to earn his degree. Along the way, he befriended students — athletes and non-athletes — and shared his experiences.

"They were a little curious about who this graying old man sitting in the back of the room was," Stokes said. "I was able to talk to several of the kids, and develop good relationships. I spoke to several of the football players and some of the other young people on campus about some of the experiences I had when I was at Vanderbilt. It really warmed my heart to look out on the field and see African-Americans are now playing for Vanderbilt University in great numbers when at one point there was only one of us. It really made me take pride in the fact that I was able and blessed enough to be the forerunner for a group of many that would follow."

Stokes earned his degree in 2009 and added a master's degree just a few months ago. He helps coach a middle school team in Clarksville. He's at peace with the path his life took, but said he wants his experiences — good and bad — to be a guide for others.

"I tell young college kids to make sure they identify their priorities and focus on being positive influences inside and outside their sport," Stokes said. "My story doesn't necessarily have to be anyone else's story. Make sure that when you go to school, don't stop until you finish. I wish I had gotten through in four years. But God always has other plans, sometimes different from ours."

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 20

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Well, I hope he got to see Brodus kick because it was short lived..

Scoon writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Well, I hope he got to see Brodus kick because it was short lived..

and, so are polar bear cubs if they don't stay close to moma..

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Scoon:

and, so are polar bear cubs if they don't stay close to moma..

They sure made a big deal out of Brodus kicking in the SEC..My contention was he proved AA's can miss extra points also..Hello bench, remember my arse?? And yes cubs should stay away from adult males or they're lunch meat.

Snapshot writes:

Neat story. I wouldn't count Brodus out in future games the way that revolving door at kicker has went.

chuckfromwoodberry writes:

in response to carbonatedmilk:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

RockyTop1_old writes:

Good Article...I have also been rooting for Brodus...VFL!!

jjsteel writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

They sure made a big deal out of Brodus kicking in the SEC..My contention was he proved AA's can miss extra points also..Hello bench, remember my arse?? And yes cubs should stay away from adult males or they're lunch meat.

he is from Guam.

SCVFL writes:

in response to chuckfromwoodberry:

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

Hey Chuck,
Which coach would you get rid of in order to add Fuad? If you read another article "Kicking coaches are a thing of the past", CDD explains why VOLS do not have a kicking coach or a "volunteer". Another attempt by the NCAA to make everything "fair".

GO BIG RNG...VFL

CrankE writes:

It still reminds me of the scene from City Slickers where everyone is being introduced at the ranch.

Mitch Robbins: Really, you're both dentists?
Steve Jessup: Yes! We're black AND we're dentists. Let's not make an issue out of it.
Ben Jessup: Eh, they're not making an issue of it. YOU'RE making an issue of it.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101587/q...

We get it. Brodus is black. AND he's a struggling kicker. But let's not make an issue out of it.

After all, he's wearing #42 just like Jackie Robinson. And we all know that this means he's subtly breaking some barrier or something. One key difference between Robinson and Brodus; Jackie Robinson was really good at what he did. But let's not make an issue out of it.

laraccoon writes:

in response to chuckfromwoodberry:

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2012/o...
i ve heard others talk about that Reveiz nonsense . Reveiz himself talked about it on the Akron pregame show and said that Dooley had not shunned him.

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to chuckfromwoodberry:

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

You posted the same BS about Fulmer on the site below, here are the rules, even was started in the article below. I guess this shows how much you hate Dooley to the point of making up things.

NCAA rules provide for only eight position coaches. They also prohibit UT from bringing in a "volunteer" helper to work with the kickers.

In the offseason, the kicker can hire a private coach on his own dime. But come football season, a kicker is a man, more or less, without a coach.

http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2012/o...

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to jjsteel:

he is from Guam.

Doesn't matter, he speaks the English language and he is an American citizen correct?? He's American no matter what color he is, that's my take.

VOLFLIAM writes:

in response to chuckfromwoodberry:

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

Another poor fool !!!

bob.lee#266593 writes:

in response to Snapshot:

Neat story. I wouldn't count Brodus out in future games the way that revolving door at kicker has went.

"has GONE", for the record.

Olcrow writes:

in response to chuckfromwoodberry:

They need a friggin coach! Fuad has offered his services at NO CHARGE but Dooley said no. Clean house and pay for a coach who can win.

wouldn't be prudent give Dooley credit(he's a lawyer)when NCAA comes knockin but, Bruce Pearl on the other hand wouldn't even know who Fuad was(or at least could not identify him in a picture)

Olcrow writes:

Does Stokes have any eligibility left?Want to work on a post graduate degree?How does his leg feel these days?Just don't let him attempt a game winning FG vs.Vandy.

Volunatic writes:

in response to bob.lee#266593:

"has GONE", for the record.

Alternately, it could be "has done went."

bob.lee#266593 writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Alternately, it could be "has done went."

or "done gone and went" Illiteracy can be fun.

crappieking writes:

You could combine Brodus and Palardy together and still wouldn't have a decent kicker. Just another Dooley failure. How do play in the SEC and don't have a good kicker on the team?

CCLC writes:

I know I enjoyed watching him last Saturday.
just sayin'

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features