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Regardless of the destination, a college signing day brings to culmination all the extra hours of work and devotion needed to rise above the fray and continue to play a sport past the high school level.
Emotions are expected. But Thursday represented something a little more personal for Fike High senior Hunter Stokely.
Two generations ago, his grandparents attended the University of North Carolina. As an ardent Tar Heel fan in a family full of them, Robert Stokely, Hunter’s father and a bedrock supporter of baseball in the Wilson community, had his eye on attending school in Chapel Hill. But too much “hunting and fishing” proved to be tough on the academic side.
But Hunter, after verbally committing to head coach Mike Fox’s program as a freshman, officially reconnected the Stokely lineage with UNC on Thursday afternoon after signing his National Letter of Intent with the Tar Heels.
Among the attendees were an impressive cross-section of Wilson baseball personalities, including, but not limited to, Barton College athletic director Todd Wilkinson, who played his college baseball at UNC and Daniel Johnson, the Greenfield School baseball coach who coached Hunter in middle school before his transfer to Fike.
While other recruiting attention came around for the son of Robert and Cindy Stokely of Wilson, the Tar Heels represented the beginning and end of the process.
“When I chose them, that’s the first place I ever wanted to play baseball,” Hunter said of UNC. “I just wanted to go to Carolina and play. Once they gave me the chance to go there, I took it right away.”
Hunter, a third baseman blessed with advanced physical tools from a young age, quickly climbed on NCAA Division I radars as a freshman after achieving a rarity by being selected to the Powerade State Games. There, Fike head coach Buck Edmundson recalled Hunter, a left-hander, stepping into the box against a South Carolina commit that was touching 94 to 95 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Despite the limited experience in high school, Hunter competed in the box, turning on some of the offerings and getting the barrel of the bat to the ball.
“With what we see locally around here, every once in a while, we’ll see some upper 80s,” Fike head coach Buck Edmundson said. “You might run into a guy touching 90. However, just to be up there (at the State Games), you’re facing the best competition around. That kid was really mature, and Hunter came in and just handled himself. Really, his plate presence was just remarkable, and you could really see that he belonged. More importantly, he was very comfortable in that setting. I know that was a turning point, especially in my view in what I saw with Hunter was that time at the State Games.”
Moreover, it hasn’t been a smooth high school career from a health perspective. Hunter suffered a knee injury that cost him a chunk of his sophomore season, but the offer from UNC never wavered.
“I called them the day after it happened,” Hunter said. “I said ‘Coach, I’m going to have to have surgery on my knee.’ Luckily, I was fortunate to get the doctor from North Carolina, one of the surgeons that helps the baseball team, get me in and do my knee for me.”
Aside from staying busy against high-level competition on the showcase circuit, Stokely filled a variety of roles for the Golden Demons during his junior year. He hit .583 against 3-A Big East Conference opposition despite a lack of quality pitches in the zone and had a .615 on-base percentage. Edmundson frequently turned to the right-hander in relief and Hunter delivered, going 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA, striking out 22 on his way to being named all-state by North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association.
Hunter becomes the third member of the Stokely family to play in college, joining his brother, Robbie, who played basketball at Greenfield and attended Division III Guilford College. His sister, Katie, played soccer at both Greenfield and Fike and finished her college eligibility in early November with Division I Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Hunter, who is currently undecided on a major, expects to play a corner infield position for the Tar Heels.
But what helped separate Hunter from the pack into a bonafide future player in the Atlantic Coast Conference?
“I would say my dad,” he said. “Every day, he was like — you want to go hit? I worked on it every single day. My dad is the one that pushed me a little bit. Everyone just helped me get to the point where I am today. I would like to thank everybody that came, because they’re all a part of this.”