C.J. Stroud is at his best when he has a chip on his shoulder.
In an interview with Maverick Carter and Paul Rivera of The Shop, Stroud said he even intentionally looks for them as he creates a competitive edge. That included his decision to play for Ohio State in 2020 despite Justin Fields' role as the team's starter and Jack Miller III already committed to the Buckeyes as a top quarterback prospect in Stroud's class.
When Stroud arrived at Ohio State, the COVID-19 pandemic shortened his freshman year. He appeared in one contest and did not attempt a pass, but he recorded one carry for 48 yards and a touchdown. After the season, Fields departed for the NFL, which created a quarterback competition between Stroud, Miller and incoming freshman Kyle McCord. But those weren't the only players Stroud competed with.
"The next year, they brought somebody else in," Stroud said. "Quinn Ewers, the Texas quarterback, who was the No. 1 player I think ever ranked (in the 247Sports composite). ... They brought him in like a week into fall camp, which is training camp for us, and I kind of felt disrespected. I didn't like that."
When Carter asked if Ohio State's coaches let him know ahead of time that Ewers, the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2022, planned to reclassify to 2021 and play for the Buckeyes, Stroud said, "They told me the day he came."
By all accounts, Ewers' decision to reclassify was not encouraged by Ohio State. Instead, Ewers and his family wished to benefit from NIL opportunities in Columbus, which were prohibited for high school athletes in Texas at the time. Upon his arrival to campus on Aug. 2, Ewers reportedly inked a $1.4 million endorsement deal with GT Sports Marketing.
Ryan Day's first comments about Ewers came two weeks later on Aug. 16. He claimed Ewers was "a long way away" from earning in-game reps. In the Buckeyes' 12 regular-season games in 2021, Ewers was positioned behind McCord and Miller on the depth chart. He finished the year with only two snaps, handing the ball off to walk-on running back Cayden Saunders in Ohio State's final home game against Michigan State.
Still, when Stroud reflects on the story as they unfolded, the two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist said he felt slighted when Ewers arrived on campus, an event he used as motivation to obtain the awards mentioned above and put up record-breaking statistics at Ohio State.
"I have that dog in me just because I know I've been counted out," Stroud said. "They brought in a guy two weeks before our first game, and I thought I was the guy. ... That shows you, man, it's a business. Now I'm doing it for myself. I know the business that I am in is, in a sense, cutthroat."
Though Stroud's comments may seem like resentment from Stroud toward Day, the Inland Empire, California, native has shared several positive details about his relationship with Day since that season – one that ended with Stroud throwing for six touchdowns in the Rose Bowl and Ewers transferring to Texas. The most recent example was Stroud's remarks after Ohio State's loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
"Coach Day did a helluva job, man," Stroud said. "His leadership, even though people would talk and talk and do this and do that, he just keeps showing up. When you see a man like that, that's a true man, a man in the arena.
"Really, everybody on our team, we didn't splinter. We didn't turn eye to eye or point fingers when we lost. We owned our mistakes and kept swinging, like our culture. I wouldn't want to play for anybody else, with anybody else. ... Coach Day, helluva coach, man."