A year ago, Ohio State freshman quarterback CJ Stroud never expected to be playing his college ball this far east of the Mississippi River.
In fact, it wasn’t until the summer before his senior season that Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day even came calling.
Or texting, rather.
“Coach Day. They texted me. He was the first person who contacted me from Ohio State,” Stroud said earlier this winter. “I had never talked to Ohio State or even thought about going here. I was like whatever happens, happens. It was right before The Opening. I had a lot of Pac-12 and Big 12 schools, but didn’t have any Big Ten at the time.”
A native Californian, Stroud hadn’t quite yet blown up as a national recruit when Day texted him, but he soon would. Stroud ended up winning the MVP honors as the best overall quarterback at the 2019 Elite 11 Finals.
He then followed that performance up with a senior season where he threw for 3,878 yards and 47 touchdowns in 13 games. Stroud ended up as a 5-star prospect in the recruiting rankings and the No. 2 pocket passer in the 2020 class.
After keeping an eye on his first few games, Ohio State decided to offer Stroud. He ended up taking four official visits, stopping at Georgia, Oregon, and Michigan before finally finding the time to swing by OSU.
Before any of those visits took place, however, that original text from Ryan Day made as much impact as any visit.
“I got on my knees and prayed, man. I just knew my life changed at that moment,” Stroud said. “I snapped on my knees and prayed. I knew God had a plan for my life. My life story, I’m not going to go into it. I’ve been through a lot of things and had a lot of hardships. But God has always availed me. He’s made me strong in those situations.”
In that text, Day told Stroud that they were interested in him and would be recruiting him moving forward. Day also told him to continue working on his leadership. And based on the feedback that the Ohio State head coach received from the future Buckeyes at The Opening, Stroud did exactly that.
Stroud took Day’s advice seriously because he understood the position he was now in. His future may or may not have been at Ohio State, but serious, big-time doors were now opening for him and he was determined not to have those doors closed any time soon.
“When Coach Day texted me, I felt that,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is a sign.'”
Then came the first visit.
“At first, I really didn’t understand the Ohio State offer, to be honest,” Stroud said. “I thought it was going to be another USC or UCLA. But when I got here for my first unofficial visit for the Michigan State game and going into the stadium, I could see the tradition and the people outside and the walk into the old basketball arena with the chants and the motivational speeches.”
And that was without even getting to the stadium for the actual game. But that was also an impactful moment for Stroud.
“Then you get into the stadium and it’s 105,000 and everybody is squeezed against each other. Everybody is screaming their lungs out just for the Buckeyes to win,” he said. “That was the support I wanted in my college experience. I wanted to play in front of that so I could get ready for the next level.”
CJ Stroud is now living out an opportunity that had him drop to his knees in appreciation less than a year ago.
None of this is going to be easy. There will be good moments and bad. Great plays and plays he’ll wish he had back. And through it all, his time at Ohio State will be one more chapter in a life story that he is very thankful to be living.