Aberdeen senior Carl Stokes is a no-nonsense guy both on and off the football field.
But when he told his teammates of his college destination, they assumed he was joking.
Who could blame them?
It isn't often a player from Maryland - never mind Harford County - accepts a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii.
"They were like, 'You are going where?' " said Stokes, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound All-Metro linebacker who also played running back for the Class 2A state champion Eagles. "It was a big surprise, but [Hawaii] is where I feel comfortable. They treated me like family, and that area is beautiful."
Stokes signed his letter of intent on Wednesday at Aberdeen High, accepting a full scholarship to play for the Rainbow Warriors.
That same day, Stokes' teammate Erin Henderson signed to play for Maryland.
"Carl is a good person and he deserves this," said Henderson, who has already warned Stokes that he'll be visiting him in Hawaii. "Nothing was spoon-fed to Carl. It just goes to show you that hard work pays off."
Stokes didn't begin playing football until he was a freshman at Aberdeen. That first year, he didn't even start on the JV team, but he went to camps and hit the weight room, looking for ways to improve.
After a solid junior season, he broke out this year with 125 tackles, using his speed and aggressiveness to become one of the most dominant defensive players in the area.
He was equally effective on offense, rushing for 830 yards and totaling 13 touchdowns, including two in the Eagles' 33-25 overtime win over Potomac in the state final.
Colleges, however, didn't start to notice until midway through the season. When they did, Delaware and Cincinnati offered scholarships, and Stokes also received some attention from Maryland, Navy, Virginia and Marshall.
He was flattered, but much more intrigued by another potential opportunity. Stokes' mother, Florence Jones, is from American Samoa, where Stokes, who was born in Germany, lived for a couple of years while his mother was in the military, and he still has a lot of family in Hawaii.
"There was a lot of encouragement for me out there and that really helped out," said Stokes, whose uncle is a teacher in the University of Hawaii's business department.
After researching the school's academic and athletic programs on the Internet, Stokes sent a highlight tape to Hawaii running backs coach Wes Suan, who quickly showed it to head coach June Jones, a former NFL coach.
Impressed by what they saw, the coaches arranged for Stokes and his mother to visit the school late last month. When they did, Stokes was offered a full scholarship and orally committed to it without hesitation.
"After going out to the island, I never wanted to come back," said Stokes. "It was hard for me to leave."
Stokes was told by the Hawaii coaching staff that he was its No. 1 linebacker recruit. He said he may redshirt next season - practice with the team but not play any games and retain four years of eligibility.
"I'm done with the cold," Stokes said. "I want to try something new."