C.J. Stroud Calls Return to Ohio State for Pro Day “Tremendously Special,” Says Coaching and Spotlight at OSU Prepared Him for NFL Success

By Dan Hope on March 20, 2024 at 8:59 pm
C.J. Stroud with Denzel Burke and Caleb Downs
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

As C.J. Stroud walked around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during Ohio State’s pro day on Wednesday, it felt like the Buckeyes’ former star quarterback had never left.

One year after going through his own pro day that helped him become the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, Stroud was in the building for the entirety of this year’s pro day. He wanted to be there to support his former Ohio State teammates because of the support they showed him as he went through the NFL draft process himself a year ago.

“A lot of great relationships I have here still. So just appreciate my brothers for supporting me last year and I just wanted to return the favor,” Stroud said. “Just show them some love. And I think everybody did a good job today. So I'm proud of them.”

Even though Stroud is coming off of one of the best seasons ever for an NFL rookie quarterback, there were no indications Wednesday that the fame and fortune of his new position have changed him in any way. The former Buckeye remained as friendly and generous with his time as ever, giving advice to Ohio State’s current players – even those he never actually played alongside in Columbus – and even taking the time to meet with local media more than an hour after the day’s on-field drills had concluded.

Stroud believes continuing to be the same guy he’s always been is a big reason why he was able to be so successful in his rookie season with the Houston Texans, whom he led to an AFC South title by throwing for 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns with only five interceptions, earning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the process.

“I can sit up here and crack jokes with y'all and just be myself,” Stroud said. “Early on (in his Ohio State career), you would try to like answer everything the right way or do it – like, man, whatever you're doing, I just try to be myself. So that's something that definitely prepared me from Ohio State to the NFL.”

While it’s now been more than 14 months since Stroud played in his final game as a Buckeye, he says it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. But it hit home for him when he walked through the halls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday and saw pictures of himself on the walls alongside other NFL greats from Ohio State.

“I remember walking through the halls and playing here and wanting to get on the wall so bad,” Stroud said. “That was really the goal was like being a first-rounder … being in the NFL Honors where they put those guys, being where all the draft picks were at, and now that I'm walking through the halls and I see myself up there, it's kind of cool. So just a lot of great people poured into me; Coach Mick, Coach Day, Coach Fitch, Coach Dennis, just a lot of great people, man. So it's a blessing to be able to come back.”

Stroud described it as “tremendously special” to be back at the university that helped him get to where he is now.

“I've built a lot of great relationships here that I'll cherish for the rest of my life, man,” Stroud said. “And I remember coming here, somebody told me like, it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision. And I feel like for the next, however long God allows me to be on Earth, man, I definitely know that this is a second home to me, and I'm proud enough to be able to come back and still get love. And I really do appreciate everybody for watching me now that I'm in the NFL and things like that. But definitely, Columbus has a special place in my heart.”

Stroud didn’t necessarily expect to have so much success in the NFL right away. But he credits his coaching from Ryan Day at Ohio State with giving him the right mindset to be able to succeed right off the bat.

“Coach Day used to always tell me like before games, ‘Don't have any expectations.’ Just go out there and go 1-0 every play, every drive, every game and just try to win that play,” Stroud said. “And that's kind of how I approached the league. And of course, I had like a goal in mind of like playing well, but I couldn't tell you that I was gonna do everything I did or didn't do things that I wanted to do. I kind of just really wanted to put a good foundation on what Houston Texans football was, and of course I had great coaches and teammates up there to help with that. DeMeco (Ryans) is a great head coach and had a lot to do with it and (offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik) as well. So it's been amazing. But I couldn't just say yeah, I would have had a year like I had just last year around this time.”

“I've built a lot of great relationships here that I'll cherish for the rest of my life.”– C.J. Stroud on Ohio State

Stroud also believes the spotlight he was under as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, and the criticism that often came with that even though he was a Heisman finalist in both of his seasons as the Buckeyes’ starter, steeled him well for the challenges that come with playing in the league.

“We played our preseason game against New England and everybody thought I was terrible, which is something that I'm not not used to. Even playing here when playing Minnesota that first game (as Ohio State’s starting quarterback), everybody thought I was ass. But I proved them wrong just like I proved other people wrong from the Patriots game,” Stroud said. “When you're young, you make mistakes and that just kind of comes with the territory. And honestly, like coming into the league, you have to understand that those guys make plays, too. Sometimes you might throw a perfect pass, but it just gets intercepted because those guys are just as good as you are. So for me, the way I tried to separate myself was just film study and being myself. Everything that got me to the point where I was at, I just kept doing it and just kept going. Never looked back. Never put my head down.”

Stroud had the opportunity to participate in two pro days at Ohio State, serving as the quarterback for Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at their pro day in 2022 after his first season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. He felt that helped prepare him for his actual pro day a year later, so he was happy to see Will Howard and Devin Brown get the same opportunity on Wednesday, and he was impressed by how both of them threw.

“It's good to kind of like feel the ‘pressure’ of pro day early, so whenever they get their opportunity to do theirs, I think they'll do a great job just knowing that they have experience doing this,” Stroud said. “I thought they did an amazing job.”

As they continue their competition to be Ohio State’s new starting quarterback in 2024, Stroud said his advice to them is to be good teammates to each other and to focus on what their coaches are telling them rather than listening to the outside noise.

“Do it for everybody in the room,” Stroud said. “I think something that like me, (former Ohio State quarterbacks) Jack (Miller) and Quinn (Ewers) and Kyle (McCord), we all had really good relationships off the field. And we all really wanted to see each other do well. Of course, everybody wanted to play and everybody wanted to start, but it wasn't out of ill will. It wasn't like we were trying to cut each other in line or just be weird. Really, everything was natural, and I think that that's the reason why we've all had some successes.

“And I think for those guys, just doing it for the right reasons and just listening to coaching. It's not gonna be easy. At one point in your career at Ohio State, people are gonna hate you, and they're gonna talk crazy. But it’s all to prepare you for what's to come next.”

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