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August 31, 2009

Stokes family defends Rodriguez, Michigan

Michigan's made good fodder for media piranha in recent days, though several have sided with Rich Rodriguez in the Detroit Free Press investigation into U-M's alleged violations over exceedingly long practice time. But one radio show host went so far as to call freshman Je'Ron Stokes a "victim of RichRod."

In reality, Stokes' father responded today, his son was a victim of a reporter with an agenda. The Free Press cornered Stokes on media day, apparently, and asked him about the workload.

"Hooooo!" Stokes said. "A typical week is working from 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 at night, Monday through Saturday. … We do the weight room at least three times a week, and seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones. Speed and agility on the other days. Every day we have something new to get ready for the season."

Rodriguez welled up in recalling Stokes' stunned reaction when his name was included in the Free Press report.

"That really, really touched me," Ron Stokes, Je'Ron's father, said today. "When I talked to Je'Ron and said, 'son, why is your name out there?' he said, 'it's okay. Coach told me it was okay.' I told him I didn't want his name on anything negative or which wasn't productive and conducive to what you're trying to accomplish.

"But he asked, 'Coach, what did I do? I keep hearing my name come up and I don't know what I did wrong.' Coach told him, 'you did nothing wrong, son. You did nothing wrong.'"

Count the elder Stokes among those who believe there's nothing to the allegations.

"My wife [Juanita] and I talk to Je'Ron every day. We follow him through the internet, by phone, and we've been up there on a couple of occasions," he said. "We spent an entire Thursday through Monday up there, and I'd see guys voluntarily go into that weight room on Sunday and Saturday and put in extra work.

"I know [the allegations] are not true, because I know how [strength coach] Mike Barwis cares for these kids. He's taken my son to bible study and to church. These are the kinds of things that impress us about the program and Rich Rod and his staff. They are good people, and I hate the fact that every negative thing put out there brings the wrong perception to the Michigan program.

"We wanted to follow everything closely. He hit the school in June and from that point on we would always ask him, 'what are you doing, what time have you got to be there, what time are you doing this, where are you going after that?' We closely monitored what his experience was going to be coming in, knowing we were told if he comes in and competes, there's a chance he could possibly contribute his freshman year."

Stokes advised his son to always go the extra mile as a result.

"As an ex-football player, I always told him what to do outside of what was required of him … maybe put in some extra work in the weight room, make sure you're getting acclimated to the quarterbacks in 7-on-7s and individual drills, not under the supervision of the coaches," he said. "Take that extra step to go and get film study in so you can see what's required, what you need to correct and improve.

"He did that. We follow what's going on with the program, and we were reading last night and Ronnie's name came up [in the report]. We said, 'how did he get involved in this? What happened?'

"They took and twisted and misconstrued [his quote], when Ronnie was just simply saying he's doing the regulated hours required by the coaches within the rules. There are two sessions, and he might have been part of the morning group, like 8:30 to 11. The second group might be 1-3. The voluntary workout would be like 3-5 or 5:30 with the quarterbacks or other players. He might go to rehab, take a shower or take the initiative to go up and look at some film, might not leave Schembechler Hall until 6:00 or 7:30. But that was taken out of context."

This wasn't the first time he's seen Rodriguez face adversity, he added, noting he had to endure some badmouthing when opposing coaches came through his living room. But the family's own experiences with the Michigan coach were much different than they expected, and enough to convince them the program was for their son.

"There was so much negative recruiting, how he treated the kids … when we got a chance to meet him individually on a couple occasions, we realized this guy is passionate about winning, but he cares about his players," Mr. Stokes said of Rodriguez.

The only regret, he said, is that his son's first experience with the media will be one to forget.

"These guys are working hard. I told him he's part of a great team right now," Ron Stokes said. "They were embarrassed last year, they made up in their mind they refused to let that happen again. I told him all you have to do is get in and get on board, because I knew these guys were going to put in the extra time outside of the coaches requirements to get better so they don't have that type of season happen again."



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