On the surface, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s experiences with spring practices couldn’t be in any more contrast.
A year ago, with Heisman finalist Justin Fields departing for the NFL, Stroud entered spring ball as a significant unknown without a single pass attempt to his name at the college level. And while he went wire to wire throughout the offseason as the favorite to ultimately win the starting job, what was to be expected of Stroud as the weight of Ohio State’s national championship hopes were placed on his shoulders was anyone’s guess.
Now, following a record-breaking season that concluded with a 573-yard, six-touchdown performance in Ohio State’s Rose Bowl win over Utah, Stroud has firmly established himself as one of the premier players at the game’s premier position as he nears the end of this year’s spring practices.
But while Stroud and head coach Ryan Day have been able to dive into the deeper intricacies of the position this spring without the worries of becoming overwhelmed, Stroud hasn’t noticed much of a difference this month. For him, the goals haven’t changed much, if at all, despite the leaps he’s made since entering last offseason.
“Honestly, I don’t really see a huge difference. I’m getting all the reps with the ones, so it’s not really a big difference for me,” Stroud said following Wednesday’s practice. “My mindset is just trying to get better, trying to be more competitive, and trying to just push the defense to be great as well. Really, my job is to make everybody around me better.”
A likely oversimplification of the challenges Day has presented to Stroud this offseason, Stroud’s simplistic approach to his role speaks directly to the demeanor with which he’s always carried himself, regardless of the position in which he’s found himself. Even now, despite the growing attention and praise he receives regularly, Stroud remains true to himself by striking a healthy balance between confidence and humility.
“Just being grounded in my faith and having a good support system and good foundation back home and here as well,” Stroud said when asked how he protects from getting ahead of himself. “I just try to lean on God, and God has humbled me and shown me humility. Different things like that that I’ve been through in my life have shown me that you don’t want to boast all the time because then He’ll humble you. That’s something that I’ve learned.”
Stroud’s home life has also played an integral role in his ability to remain within himself despite increased national notoriety. Stroud said both his parents have preached the importance of being humble since he was a child, and as the youngest of five children, his siblings aren’t afraid to knock him down a peg to remind him of the need for humility.
“I appreciate it because it feels good not to be praised by everybody,” Stroud said of his siblings being tough on him. “That’s why I enjoy going home. I enjoy being around buddies and my homies back home. We roast (each other) all the time, we go go-karting, play Top Golf, all different kinds of things just to get our minds off the game and remain regular people.”
Being able to compartmentalize his newfound stardom and keep it in perspective is sure to do wonders for Stroud as his personal stock continues to rise, but that ability also bodes well for Ohio State this season. Stroud remains committed to continuing to grow as a quarterback, and with the always-lurking impediment of complacency a likely non-factor for him, even better days are likely on the horizon for Stroud and the Ohio State offense.
Never one to shy away from talking about his enjoyment of the mental aspect of the position, Stroud said he’s already seeing growth in himself and the offense simply by practicing against the new-look defensive schemes of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
“It’s a good thing for the whole offense. They do a lot of different things, and they have different ways to get to different coverages, which is really good for my eyes to see,” Stroud said. “I’m not just seeing Cover 1, Cover 3, or base coverage every day, so I definitely appreciate Coach Knowles bringing in that new kind of swagger to the defense, and it really helps us as an offense.”