Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud reacts after being selected by the Houston Texans second overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
John P. Lopez – Call it fate: Why C.J. Stroud belongs here, now and surely will not disappoint
When C.J. Stroud was a freshman in high school, a teacher asked what he wanted to do with his life.
“I want to be an NFL quarterback,” Stroud said.
Unfortunately, it was a math class. The teacher went to the whiteboard and began writing down numbers.
- More than 1,000,000. That’s how many boys play high school football every year.
- 11,050. That’s how many earn college football scholarships.
- 224. That’s how many are drafted into the NFL each year.
- 1,696. That’s how many earn a roster spot on an NFL team each year.
The teacher then wrote on the whiteboard, “0.078%” and told Stroud, “That’s your chance of playing in the NFL.
In reality, Stroud’s chances were even less than that.
To be here, now, holding the future of the Houston Texans in his hands was as distant and unlikely as finding enough money to buy a new pair of cleats.
His father — a huge influence, best friend, and mentor to Stroud until he relapsed into a 20-year-old drug addiction — was incarcerated at Folsom State Prison in Sacramento, Calif., after being convicted of carjacking, kidnapping, and misdemeanor sexual battery in 2015. Stroud was 13 years old.
The youngest of four children, Stroud went from decent means as the son of a minister, to a broken home, to seeing his father imprisoned as a repeat offender from early-1990s convictions, to believing his family would be homeless.
Stroud always was gifted with athleticism and a golden arm, but never was he the type of prospect we often see today. That is, coddled, helped along, and earning favor because of his talents. He was lost on the radar well into his high school career because his mother, Kim, simply could not afford to get him into the camps and programs necessary to be seen.
The family lived in a small apartment above a storage facility, after Kim found a job just as the family was being evicted from their previous home. Stroud starred as a football and basketball player in the community, but in a world of traveling teams and showcase events, he was unseen.
Instead of 7-on-7 camps, he worked out alone or with friends. Instead of traveling teams and private coaches, he studied footwork and throwing technique on YouTube. Instead of having ambitious coaches and trainers pay his way to the most visible tournaments in California, Stroud registered himself and reached out to recruiting outlets like 247 and Rivals to promote his attendance.
It worked, but only marginally well. At Rancho Cucamonga High, a few miles east of Los Angeles, there was no doubt of Stroud’s abilities. He had that golden arm and was a local basketball superstar.
Still, after his sophomore year of high school and now estranged from his father, Stroud ranked 860th among 2020 football recruits. He had only one scholarship offer and was not a full-time starter. The financial struggles affected him on the field, too, as he played game after game in the same pair of cleats that often gave him blisters. In one game, he threw the ball with one eye closed, because one of his contact lenses wore out. School cafeteria workers often sent him home with meals. He was embarrassed to invite friends to his apartment above the storage facility and whenever they asked him to do things socially, his stock answer was, “I can’t. I’m broke.”
Still undeterred, his perseverance, deep faith, and that golden arm began to be seen. After working his way through a number of 7-on-7 camps in 2019 and earning a few more college offers, he made his own break. Despite being a three-star recruit, Stroud’s perseverance paid off with an invitation to the prestigious Elite 11 Camp that annually features the top-20 high school quarterbacks in the country. He was the final player invited and was stunned to get the invitation.
The camp, which was at the Cowboys’ facility in Frisco, was attended by highly-regarded, well-known prospects like Bryce Young, Haynes King, Drew Pine, Hudson Card, and T.J. Finley. The camp was run by Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer and featured coaches like Quincy Avery, Charlie Frye, Jordan Palmer, and a young, highly-regarded coach named Jerrod Johnson.
Stroud wowed everyone. He was paired with Johnson and in short time the two clicked, surprising all observers by winning the tournament outright, with Stroud earning MVP honors. Johnson called Stroud, “a sponge.”
Soon after the camp, Ohio State commit Jaxon Smith-Njigba called Buckeyes coach Ryan Day and raved about Stroud, telling Day he should recruit him.
Stroud’s phone rang shortly after and the voice on the other end said, “This is Ryan Day, head coach at The Ohio State University.”
After playing behind Bears quarterback Justin Fields his freshman season, Stroud took over the reins in 2021 and ultimately became a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, setting 21 OSU records along the way.
When the call from the Texans came last week, Stroud became that 0.078 exception to the rule.
And his quarterbacks coach with the Texans: Jerrod Johnson.
“It’s a blessing, a dream come true,” Stroud said. “We have a great relationship already with Jerrod Johnson. I can definitely be effective. I want to be great. I want to be accurate and deliver the ball down the field.”
There were, and are, skeptics. There will be challenges and obstacles. There will be unfathomable pressure on a 21-year-old to arrive to Houston and deliver.
But there always have been those things in Stroud’s life – and they’ve always been more ominous. Stroud always has bet on himself and found a way to beat all the odds.
He will do exactly that again. And the more Texans fans get to know Stroud’s talent and conviction, the more they will realize that here, now, there couldn’t have been a better fit.
It all adds up.
Congratulations! I will enjoy watching you for years! We are grateful for you.
What a tremendous story and accomplishment I think we the Texans have a really great chance for success with our quarterback C J Stroud I’m can’t wait to see how it all turns out #LetsGoTexans!!!!
Great story , C.J. is a very grounded young man . Very well written story , it touches the heart. God works through people , I believe C.J. will inspire other young people, because he walks the walk . Again, well written Mr. Lopez, and I listen everyday from 10 to 2, go loop holes.
I did not think it was possible to be even more imoressed with CJ. But, your great story managed to do it. What an amazing and driven talent he is.