Sports Spectrum Weekly

QB C.J. Stroud strives to lead as 'man of God' in 2nd year as Ohio State starter

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns in 2021, his first year as a starter, but he doesn’t think he’s even close to having played his best football.

“I feel like I barely touched my potential,” Stroud said during his availability at Big Ten media days last week. “I feel like I could do a lot more. Hopefully God blesses me with that opportunity and I’m working toward it. I always feel I can get better.”

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Taking over for 2021 NFL Draft first-round pick Justin Fields, Stroud led the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record last season while ranking in the top five nationally in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating. He put up a career-best 573 passing yards and tied a career-high with six touchdown passes in the team’s 48-45 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl.

His performance in his redshirt freshman season also earned him a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Alabama’s Bryce Young took home the award, and the two signal callers are among the favorites again this season.

During his Big Ten media days appearance, Stroud reflected on what it meant to be a Heisman finalist and thanked God for giving him that opportunity.

“I’ve been dreaming of that moment for my whole life, ever since I dedicated my life to football,” he said. “And for God to bless me like that … it’s amazing.”

The Inland Empire, California, native is now the unquestioned leader of Ohio State’s offense as the team attempts to reach the College Football Playoff for the third time in four seasons. It is a responsibility Stroud takes incredibly seriously.

“That’s what God has called me to do is be a leader,” Stroud said. “So I definitely try to show love and let people know that whatever they’re going through or whatever they have been through, they’re not by themselves. They have help. They have inspiration. They can look up to me.”

He pointed to his faith as a driving force behind his desire to take on a leadership role. That process started during Stroud’s redshirt season, so there wasn’t much that changed from his perspective when he became the face of one of college football’s most storied programs.

“I don’t feel different as a leader. Maybe I feel a little more responsibility to lead by example,” he said. “I think I’m a natural-born leader. I think I’ve been called to be a leader, not just in football but as a man of God. It’s nothing new. I was doing this stuff freshman year. It just gets talked about a little more now.”

 

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Stroud’s faith journey began with his father, who was a pastor but ultimately ended up in prison. Over time, C.J. developed his own personal relationship with Christ. And he credits three things — faith, family and friends — with helping keep him grounded as one of the highest-profile players in the country.

“It’s a constant prayer and just talking with my mom and just family and friends at home,” Stroud said. “They’re definitely the reason why I am who I am today.”

 

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This could be Stroud’s final season in Columbus as he is eligible to enter the 2023 NFL Draft and is a potential No. 1 overall pick. A loss to archrival Michigan in Ohio State’s final regular-season game last year prevented the Buckeyes from winning a fifth straight Big Ten title, but they enter 2022 as the overwhelming favorites again.

OSU opens the season Sept. 3, when it hosts Notre Dame.

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