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Clement Stokes finally gets his chance to shine

November 19, 1997

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Hardly anyone knew who Notre Dame’s backup tailback was last week. Now, people are lining up to talk to Clement Stokes.

Quite a comeback for a guy whose bad grades had forced him to leave school two years ago.

``Anything that’s worth having is worth waiting for,″ Stokes said. ``I’m glad I’ve been able to participate and contribute the way I’ve always wanted.″

After getting only two carries in the first five games, the senior has come on strong in the second half of the season. He’s rushed for 311 yards, including a career-high 109 against Pittsburgh.

He scored two touchdowns _ his first _ in Saturday’s upset at LSU, and finished with 92 yards on 13 carries.

``He’s paid the price to play, and he’s sacrificed to be on the field,″ coach Bob Davie said. ``He earned the right to play, and he’s taken advantage of it.″

That’s what they said about Stokes a few years ago, too _ and that’s when his troubles began. The highly-touted prospect from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., spent his freshman year on the scout squad, but played well in the spring and was expected to be a big part of the Irish running game as a sophomore.

But he didn’t get much playing time, and a freshman, Autry Denson, passed him on the depth chart. Stokes was miserable, on the field and off. School became an unpleasant chore. He skipped classes and stopped doing his homework.

Finally, Notre Dame officials told him to take the spring 1996 semester off.

``I put myself in a bad situation,″ Stokes said. ``You can’t bury your head and hope your problems will go away.″

Though he could have gone somewhere else, he decided he wanted to be at Notre Dame. The university told him he could reapply after the spring semester _ if he got his grades up.

So he enrolled at Nebraska-Omaha, where he earned a 3.2 GPA. He also spent the summer working at the Chicago Mercantile.

``I don’t think I’ve always taken advantage of the opportunities given to me just because I wasn’t mature enough,″ he said. ``That semester off allowed me to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to do as a regular college athlete.″

While he was gone, his mother kept asking if he really wanted to go back to Notre Dame. Stokes said he did. He had looked at other colleges when he was in high school _ including Syracuse, which even offered him the school’s storied No. 44 _ but picked Notre Dame because he felt he belonged there.

After a semester off, he still felt that way.

``I put myself in the situation I was in,″ he said. ``I thought I might as well go back and see what I can do starting from scratch.″

He was academically ineligible for the fall semester, so he played on the scout squad. When Davie took over as coach, he told Stokes he could play under certain conditions: He had to sign a contract agreeing to go to class, meet with his academic adviser, do his work and attend study hall. Stokes signed.

He impressed the coaches during the spring, and was penciled in as Denson’s backup. But when the season began, Stokes again was playing behind a freshman.

``I didn’t doubt I would get the chance,″ he said. ``It was just a matter of being ready and healthy when I did.″

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