“I Feel Like I’m In The Back”: How C.J. Stroud Is Approaching Ohio State’s Quarterback Competition

By Colin Hass-Hill on August 3, 2021 at 6:16 pm
C.J. Stroud

The perception is something sophomore gunslinger C.J. Stroud can’t hide from. He, like everyone else with eyes on the ongoing competition in Columbus, understands that most people outside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center project him as Ohio State’s likely starting quarterback going into the 2021 season.

That, however true it really is, is not a view that Stroud shares internally because, well, it’s never how he has seen himself.

“I feel like I'm last. I feel like I'm in the back,” Stroud said on Tuesday. “I've had a mindset since I was little to have a chip on my shoulder. It's just kind of where I come from. I'm kind of always the underdog, and I like that feeling. Even if I am the frontrunner, it really doesn't matter to me. I just want to be able to go out there and play the game that I love.”

Yet despite how much the underdog mentality matters to Stroud, most don’t view him as such at the moment. He will, in fact, enter preseason camp on Wednesday as the favorite in the ongoing competition between Kyle McCord, Jack Miller and himself – plus, soon enough, Quinn Ewers – to replace Justin Fields. 

His late ascent as a high school recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, California, which included him capturing the Elite 11 MVP and nearly becoming a five-star prospect, gave him some juice when he arrived on campus in January of 2020, and he has maintained momentum since then. He and the others split first-team reps in the spring, and they’ll continue to all rotate through the offense in preseason camp until Ryan Day and Corey Dennis are comfortable enough to name one of them a starter.

Does Stroud think he’s ready to take over right now? The next few weeks, he believes, will tell the tale. 

“Fall camp, man, that's when you really get ready,” he said. “I think my body has definitely come up to par, and I think I'm able to take bigger hits and take on bigger guys because I'm around 218 now. Probably play around 220. So I think that was the biggest focus for me for being able to play Week 1 against Minnesota. I think I did that, and I feel like my body's ready. But football-wise, you have to get back in the groove of playing football still. I think fall camp will help me do that.”

Those physical gains he referenced are not insignificant, in the mind of Stroud. He says he put on “20 pounds of muscle” in the offseason and set personal records in both the squat and the bench press.

Stroud had exited the spring with positive thoughts on his footwork and timing. But knew he needed to get both bigger and stronger, even if Ohio State doesn’t plan to have him carry the ball as much as Fields did – which he confirmed, noting the offense has been built with the understanding that none of the next-in-line quarterbacks run as well as their predecessor did.

He also thinks he “grasped the offense even more during the spring” which he sees as a “strong suit” of his. He believes himself to be “very intelligent” when it comes to understanding the offensive approach. On Wednesday morning, it’ll be time for him to showcase it on the practice fields.

“Anything in life, to be successful, you have to be consistent at it,” Stroud said. “So I think being consistent every day, showing up every day. We kind of have a saying in the QB room – you're not allowed to have a bad day. So not having any bad days, honestly, I think is how you get the job done.”

Day previously said he hopes to know the starting quarterback within two weeks of preseason camp. If it’s Stroud, he thinks the additional time with the starting offense in practice would be beneficial.

“Me, personally, I think reps are the most important thing, especially the practice days, especially fall camp,” Stroud said. “Because you're 12 days away after the last day of fall camp until the first game. So the more reps you can get with the ones, the more chemistry you can get with everybody that's starting already.”

This summer, he mentioned, gave him a chance to “get a connection” with the receiving corps. Since the coaches weren’t around, he also saw it as a chance to “show them your leadership abilities.”

Soon enough, he’ll try to show the coaches he’s the right guy for the job.

“Even if things go the way I think they will for me this year, I'll still have that chip on my shoulder, just because I know where I come from, I know everything that I've been through,” Stroud said. “Definitely will still keep that mindset and chip on my shoulder – but not a negative chip; a chip of I want it more than anybody else.”

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