Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud keeps 'God first' as he leads Ohio State in strong freshman season

Before C.J. Stroud was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the starting quarterback of one of the most storied programs in college football, he walked into Hope City House of Prayer with teammate Kamryn Babb while redshirting at Ohio State last season.

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In a recent interview with The Lantern, Stroud said what he experienced that day changed the way he viewed his relationship with God.

“I remember walking into the church, I had this feeling; it was something I could never explain,” he said. “It was a better feeling than winning a football game. After I felt that, I thought, ‘This is what I really want.'”


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Stroud’s faith journey started with his father, who was a pastor before going to prison. The absence of his father as he was transitioning to adulthood — a time when many kids begin to make their faith their own — took a toll on Stroud’s relationship with God.

“My faith, in high school and middle school, it kind of withered,” he told The Lantern. “I’ve been through a lot with my family, because, of course, my dad was a pastor and we went through what we went through. After I found Christ for myself, it just helped me out so much.”

Earlier this season, the Inland Empire, California, native beat out the rest of the Ohio State’s highly-rated young quarterbacks to earn the starting spot and replace Justin Fields, who left for the NFL after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game last season.

Stroud picked up where Fields left off, as the Buckeyes led the nation with 551.4 yards of total offense and 45.5 points per game. He ranked in the top 10 in passing yards (ninth; 3,862), completion percentage (sixth; 70.9), touchdown passes (fifth; 38) and passer rating (tied for second; 182.2).

His individual production combined with Ohio State’s 10-2 record was enough to be named a Heisman finalist, joining Alabama’s Bryce Young, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson.

Stroud expressed his gratitude to God for the position he found himself in prior to the Heisman ceremony in New York, where he finished fourth in the voting.

“This stuff is crazy,” he told The Lantern. “I think about it as a kid, just playing at Ohio State and having this opportunity to be a Heisman finalist; I just have to thank God and give Him the praise.”

Only a redshirt freshman, Stroud will spend at least one more year in Columbus since he is ineligible to enter this year’s NFL draft. Before preparations begin for next season though, the Buckeyes face Pac-12 champion Utah in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day.


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Ask Stroud how he wound up in the position he now finds himself, and he points to two things: hard work and faith.

“I remember those days where I didn’t think working out was really necessary, or I didn’t think it would pay off,” Stroud told the Columbus Dispatch earlier this month. “Now it is. I know a lot of people back home are surprised. But honestly, I’m not surprised. I put in the work, and I kept God first. If you do those two things, I think you can accomplish anything in life.”

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