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Central promotes Stokes to head coach

Central Gwinnett tragically lost its head football coach in the offseason, but his replacement is one of Dennis Roland's guys.

The Black Knight administration hired Ed Stokes, one of Roland's top assistants last season, as its new coach on Thursday afternoon. He replaces his good friend and former boss Roland, who died Jan. 1 after a long battle with cancer.

"Dennis was great with X's and O's, but what he really did a good job of was teaching kids character," said Stokes, who was Roland's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the 2007 season. "He did a great job of hiring. The guys we have on our staff are good. What he's done to lay the groundwork has made my job a lot easier."

Stokes, 37, was an assistant coach at North Gwinnett for seven seasons (one under Roland) and then coached at Flowery Branch for the 2006 season. But he left there after one season because he wanted to coach for Roland, who took the Central job prior to the 2007 season.

"I had a great situation at Flowery Branch," said Stokes, who also has coached high school football at Phenix City Central (Ala.) and Sandalwood (Fla.). "But when (Roland) got the job here, I thought enough of him that I wanted to come down here and coach with him."

Stokes' hiring leaves Central with an excellent opportunity to keep Roland's staff intact. He met with the assistant coaches as a group on Thursday evening, but planned to meet with each coach one-on-one next week.

He said he has a short list of possible candidates to replace him as offensive coordinator, but if none of those work out, he plans to be his own coordinator.

Central interviewed eight finalists from a large pool of applicants for the vacancy.

"I liked the way (Stokes) handled himself in coaching, teaching and being around kids," said Central athletic director Tally Johnson, the school's head football coach from 1974-2001.

"He's just a first-class, professional person."

Stokes, a native of Eufaula, Ala., was a walk-on wide receiver for Auburn from 1990 to 1992, where he was a teammate of Buford head football coach Jess Simpson. He never played a game for the Tigers - the new Central coach said "I practiced with the team" - but the football experience propelled him into coaching.

He hasn't always been a spread offense coach, but he developed a fondness for it when Roland brought the pass-heavy offense to North. Stokes went to Flowery Branch to help the Falcons with the spread for a season, and worked in it last season under Roland.

He said he planned to tweak Roland's offense a little, maintaining elements of the spread while also taking advantage of Central running back Diante Drake, a rising senior and a top college prospect.

Central made the state playoffs from 2004 to 2006 under Bradley Warren, but had a 4-6 record with a young team in 2007.

"I know how competitive it is in Gwinnett County," Stokes said. "I'm very humbled to get my first head coaching job in Gwinnett County. I'm excited about what we can do here. Central's won in the past and we've got a lot of potential over here. We're headed in the right direction.

"I want to thank the administration and booster club for the vote of confidence. It's a unique situation over here from most of Gwinnett County. Lawrenceville still has the hometown feel. A lot of people who grew up here still live here. I really like the community support."

SideBar: THE STOKES FILE

Name: Ed Stokes

New position: Head football coach at Central Gwinnett

Former position: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Central Gwinnett

Age: 37

Career record: First head coaching job

Education: Graduated from Auburn University in 1995 with a degree in math education; earned master's degree in secondary math in 2004 from Piedmont College

Background: A Eufaula, Ala., native, Stokes was an Auburn walk-on at wide receiver from 1990-1992; coached at Phenix City Central (Ala.) and Sandalwood (Fla.) high schools, before coaching in Georgia; coached at North Gwinnett for seven seasons and Flowery Branch for one prior to joining former Central coach Dennis Roland's staff

Family: Wife Katie; sons Ryan, 4, and Carson, 1