During the middle of his first season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, C.J. Stroud realized he needed just to be himself.
Early on in his first season leading the Buckeyes’ offense, Stroud felt like he was trying to be too politically correct when he met with the media. On the other hand, there were times last season when he said things he probably shouldn’t have said publicly, and Ohio State’s communications directors advised him to be careful about what he revealed during interviews. Eventually, though, Stroud felt like he was able to find his comfort zone with handling the attention he received off the field, which in turn allowed him to become more comfortable on the field.
“That's something for even young players that I would give them advice for is just be yourself,” Stroud said. “I wasn't trying to be like nothing weird, but at the end of the day, I wasn't being myself in certain aspects and I felt that.”
Going into his second season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, the spotlight is shining brighter on Stroud than ever before. He’s widely regarded as a top-two candidate (along with defending winner Bryce Young) for this year’s Heisman Trophy and a contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft, all the while he and his Ohio State teammates have aspirations of winning a national championship.
Stroud also appeared to be as comfortable as ever, though, as he stepped headfirst into that spotlight as one of Ohio State’s representatives at this year’s Big Ten Media Days.
The Buckeyes’ junior quarterback was loose, confident and personable as he fielded questions from various reporters for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon. He cracked several jokes during one exchange with a reporter who asked him what his rating would be if there was a college football video game this year, boasted that he recently beat his teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba nine straight times in the basketball shooting game of H-O-R-S-E and even challenged the Ohio State basketball team to a game against him and his football teammates.
C.J. Stroud had some fun with a reporter who asked him what his rating would be in an NCAA Football video game. pic.twitter.com/MNvO5KZeLt— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 27, 2022
C.J. Stroud says he recently beat Jaxon Smith-Njigba in H-O-R-S-E nine straight times. He says he's the best shooter on the team, though Dawand Jones is the most complete basketball player ... and he thinks a group of football players could beat the Ohio State basketball team. pic.twitter.com/v0kc4a8f93— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 27, 2022
Stroud says he’s a private person by nature, so all the attention that comes with being Ohio State’s star quarterback has taken some getting used to. For example, Stroud said he was taken aback when he was recognized by a fan while vacationing in the Virgin Islands this summer.
“I was like ‘What the heck?’ It's kind of cool, but it is scary at the same time, because I mean, I'm not really used to that,” Stroud said. “And I'm not used to people staring at me. Like where I’m from, that's kind of weird, I guess. I’m getting used to it though.”
What Stroud has come to realize is that being Ohio State’s quarterback also gives him the opportunity to inspire and be a role model for others, especially children who might look up to him. That side of Stroud was on display at Braxton Miller’s recent CHARG1NG camp, where Stroud signed autographs and took pictures with every camper who asked him for one.
C.J. Stroud instantly became the most popular person here upon his arrival at Braxton Millers @Charg1ngBrand camp, with kids lining up to get their picture taken with the Ohio State quarterback. pic.twitter.com/0WSFg389qz— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 17, 2022
“To be able to touch so many people, inspire others, I think that's definitely the most exciting part of my life,” Stroud said. “All the football stuff is cool and stuff, but seeing kids come up to me and tell me that they want to be like me, it’s very amazing for me.
“That's what God has called me to do is be a leader. 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 also recognizes that Ohio State fans around the world are counting on him to make the plays needed for the Buckeyes to win games, and he doesn’t take that burden lightly.
“When you come to a place like Ohio State, you have millions of fans, millions of people who love Ohio State, love the Buckeyes, now you're leading them in a sense as well,” Stroud said. “So I definitely feel that and I respect that responsibility and I try to do my best to be the best I can be.”
Stroud credits his faith and his family with helping him learn to embrace the spotlight rather than allowing it to overwhelm him.
“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.”
Stroud is far from the only Buckeye who will be in the national spotlight this season. Smith-Njigba is also drawing national preseason attention as a projected top-two candidate (along with defending winner Jordan Addison) for this year’s Biletnikoff Award, and he was also at Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday. Stroud and Smith-Njigba are close friends who have spent much of the offseason traveling together, so they’ve helped each other navigate their rise to fame over the past year.
“We definitely talk about our issues or talk about whatever we're going through,” Stroud said. “And when we do that, I mean, it just makes it kind of easier to have a brother to go through that with.”
Although Smith-Njigba objected to Stroud’s characterization of their H-O-R-S-E games, he believes his quarterback has done a great job handling all the attention and stepping up as a leader this offseason.
“You just see it with his confidence,” Smith-Njigba said. “People are gonna listen to him and he's speaking up. He's more mature, he wants to win. We're all fired up. He's a competitor, and no one wants to win more than him, and he wants to bring that to the whole team and spread it out. And he's done a real good job with that.”
C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba having a *heated* dispute about who got the better of the other in a game of HORSE pic.twitter.com/lzP2WFiKEG— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) July 27, 2022
Ryan Day has also been impressed with the way Stroud has handled the responsibility of becoming the face of the Buckeyes.
“C.J.’s always had very good leadership skills,” Day said. “He's always had a voice. But once you go on the field and show credibility that you can do it, you walk a little differently and guys look at you through a different lens, and I think that's been the case.”
On the field, Stroud is holding himself to a high standard entering what will likely be his final season at Ohio State. Even though he was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Big Ten offensive player of the year last season, Stroud was reluctant to say his first season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback was successful because he wasn’t able to lead the Buckeyes to their goals as a team.
“I would probably counteract me having success last year. I feel like I maybe did but honestly, I don't think I really did a lot,” Stroud said. “I feel like I barely touched my potential. I feel I can do a lot more.”
Day disagreed with Stroud’s harsh self-assessment, saying he didn’t think Stroud’s play was the reason why Ohio State suffered its two losses against Oregon and Michigan. But Day thinks the fact that Stroud thinks that way is indicative of his quarterback’s increasing maturity.
“I think it says a lot about C.J. for him to make that comment on who he is as a person, because when you look at the two losses, I don’t think he played that bad in those two games. I don't think C.J. Stroud was the problem,” Day said. “But for him to say that, and for him to take on those losses, says a lot about who he is as a leader.
“To say he accomplished nothing last year, that's not accurate. But that's his approach, and I think that's what makes him great. And I respect that about him. So he did a lot of great things last year, but I think his best football’s ahead of him.”