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Stokes Is Not Alone : Although Sidelined by Injury, Bruin Star Still Attracts Interest From NFL


J.J. Stokes has been poked and prodded, baked and boiled, mauled and massaged, shocked, stroked and stimulated.

He has spent more time on a bicycle than Greg LeMond. More time in the water than Janet Evans. More time on various electrical hookups than a TV repairman.

What he has not spent is much time in the UCLA lineup. His absence is part of the reason for a 2-4 record.

Stokes was a certain first-round NFL pick when he lined up at wide receiver against Tennessee in the season opener. He is still a potential first-round pick, even though he took a Tennessee helmet on his left leg that has had him hobbling for six weeks.

"The injury, as it appears, isn't debilitating," said Jon Kingdon, Raider player personnel director. "He's not as productive this year as he would want, so you have to rely on last year."

Last year's efforts (82 catches for 1,181 yards and 17 touchdowns) made him an All-American and gave him enough Heisman Trophy votes for UCLA to mount a campaign for him to win the award as a senior.

"All they have to do is pull out (videotape of) his junior year and they're going to find all kinds of good stuff," said John Becker, the Rams' personnel director. "Everybody knows who this guy is and that he's got lots of ability. I would say that where (his draft status) could get altered is if the injury is an ongoing type of thing or something that has affected his speed or durability."

The injury is a deep thigh bruise, and with swelling and gravity, fluid has drained into the knee, restricting his mobility.

On UCLA's fourth offensive play of the season, he ran a short pattern, designed to let quarterback Wayne Cook get him the ball quickly and for Stokes to do what he does best: shed tacklers and gain yards.

A tackler hit him, and Stokes stepped up. Another hit him, and he stepped back. Deron Jenkins came in and Stokes slapped him on the shoulder pad to try to ward off the tackle. Jenkins' helmet hit Stokes on the inside of his left thigh, just off the pad in his pants.

The play gained nine yards. It lost UCLA its top offensive threat.

He played the rest of the half, catching six passes for 84 yards, and the leg stiffened, putting him on the sideline for the rest of the game. He has played in one game since, lining up for 23 snaps and catching one pass for 13 yards against Washington State.

Six games, seven catches for 97 yards, no touchdowns. Through six games last season, he had 36 catches for 603 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He had nine catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in his seventh game, against Oregon State. Against the Beavers on Saturday night, he probably will watch, still healing, still trying to salvage his season.

"He won't play until he's 100%," Coach Terry Donahue said.

Stokes tried.

He said he would play against Southern Methodist in the second game of the season, because he had always played. Stokes had never sat out a game at any level of football because of injury, but SMU was his first. A week later, Nebraska was his second.

He lined up at about 80% effectiveness against Washington State and found out what 80% of J.J. Stokes meant.

"Little things shocked me," he said. "I went deep on a pattern and the defensive back was running with me stride-for-stride. If I had a good leg, I would be a couple of steps ahead of him.

"I felt weird because I looked over at Kevin (Jordan), and he was four or five yards ahead of me and was ahead of the DB. I said, 'Wow,' and it's only 20 or 30 yards."

The leg stiffened at halftime and swelled on Sunday. Stokes has not played since.

UCLA has not won since.

In Stokes' absence, Jordan is leading the Pacific 10 and is third in the nation in receiving, with 40 catches for 611 yards and three touchdowns. Still, Jordan said, "When J.J. is out there, he's the best receiver on the field."

That's a 100% Stokes. An 80% Stokes is another matter.

"I realized I didn't have the same effect on the outcome of the game," he said. "I would have a smaller effect. When I'm out there and healthy, I can make one or two plays to spark an offense. I can get the ball and break a couple of tackles and the defense has to respect that, so maybe we can run the ball a little better. But I can't win a game by myself."

He watches, attends meetings and goes through therapy twice a day. Electrical stimulation. Ice. Cold water. He leaves the trainer's room and walks on the practice field half an hour or more after teammates. Then it's on to the bicycle. He watches the receivers. His presence is more social than anything else, and he affects an attitude that there's nothing he can do about it, so there's no sense worrying about it.

"I can't help being injured," he said. "It's my job now to help the team by making my best effort to be 100% healthy."

But quietly, it's said, he is struggling with not playing.

"When I'm practicing, I often think about other things I could be doing, watching TV, whatever," he said. "But being on the outside, looking in, I miss practice. It looks exciting to me, and that's just practice.

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