It can be both a blessing and a curse to have a job where your boss has also manned your same position.
On the positive side, the boss knows what the job requires and they know what an acceptable performance looks like at that position.
On the negative side, the boss knows what the job requires and they know what an acceptable performance looks like at that position.
For Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, he considers it a blessing that Buckeye head coach Ryan Day is a former quarterback. During the winter and spring, and now into the summer, Stroud is reaping the benefits of Day’s experience, as well as his own.
“He understands that I know the game. I’ve been out there before,” Stroud said this spring. “So I definitely feel like he’s putting more on my plate. It feels good to know that somebody who played the game is coaching you to play it the right way. So I definitely appreciate him for trying to just help me out each and every day.”
Stroud is doing more as a leader on the team, both through his voice and his actions. He also has a much better grasp on the offense and how to read and manipulate defenses. Despite these increased talents and attributes, however, Day isn’t asking Stroud to do much more on the field than he’s already done.
“Honestly, he doesn’t really want me to do anything crazy, which I respect,” Stroud said. “Maybe it looks like it’s crazy on TV, but he really wants me to stay routine because that’s where the longevity is in a career. So just being consistent taking the boring stuff, which I don’t struggle at it, but you know I’m trying to excite myself, trying to get better.
“And I feel like myself having a mindset I have, making the hard throws and things like that, but honestly, I was watching this Peyton Manning thing the other day on YouTube and it’s taking the things there when you don’t want to. You want to take the shot, but it’s just smart to check down. Or maybe you’re third-and-five and taking the four yards and making your player make the decision instead of trying to take the shot. Just being mature as a player so the team can win.”
There is no doubt that CJ Stroud grew as a quarterback last season. Early in the season, his accuracy wasn’t what it would become. His passes tended to sail a bit and things were rushed at times as well. Compared to most Ohio State quarterbacks, he was outstanding from the outset. Compared to Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields, however, the flaws were quite apparent at times.
Even with those flaws, he still threw for 484 yards against Oregon, completing 65% of his passes. The fact that he was doing this with a sore shoulder was lost on some. After sitting out the Akron game, Stroud responded by completing 74.7% of his passes the rest of the season.
In those final nine games, Stroud threw 36 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He averaged four touchdown passes per game and just over nine incompletions per game.
Stroud had a game with five touchdown passes and six incompletions (Rutgers), four touchdown passes and seven incompletions (Indiana), five touchdown passes and seven incompletions (Purdue), six touchdown passes and three incompletions (Michigan State), and six touchdown passes and nine incompletions (Rose Bowl).
The only thing that kept the numbers from being insane is that they became routine.
And the guy with arguably the best seat in the house to witness that rise was backup quarterback Kyle McCord, who was a true freshman at the time.
“Yeah, man, it was awesome,” McCord said. “It was really only a matter of time. I mean, I saw the talent as soon as I got here. Competing against him, I think I know his game better than anyone else, and I knew it was just a matter of time until he flipped that switch. It was pretty sweet being firsthand to witness that. And I know he took some criticism early, but the way he bounced back from it and just blew up, it’s awesome to see and I’m really proud of him.”
McCord also has the best seat in the house when it comes to seeing the kind of person Stroud remains, despite the attention and success.
“He really hasn’t changed at all since his success,” he said. “He’s still extremely humble. Still a hard, hard worker. And the cool thing I think about our relationship is that it started really before all that. So I got to know him really well. And then seeing CJ after he blows up, he’s the same guy. So it really is cool to see that and I’m really excited for him and his future.”
Having eyes on players early is something that both coaches and teammates will do. Coaches obviously watch every step, every rep, and every breath. Players watch each other because the competition requires it. Kyle McCord watched CJ Stroud because he wanted to emulate what is required to win the job. But that’s not the only reason they watch each other.
Veterans are also on the lookout for the younger players who may be struggling or simply trying to find their way.
Fifth-year senior safety Josh Proctor has been around a while and been through a lot, so he is a player who can spot difficulties and offer words of encouragement and experience. One of those players that Proctor reached out to early on was true freshman safety Kye Stokes.
Stokes enrolled early and was a young fish in a big pond, but he proved to be a strong swimmer and ended spring with an impressive performance in the spring game.
What made Proctor decide to keep an eye on Stokes throughout the spring?
“Just from the years being here, I’ve seen how coming in, that transition, it gets hard,” Proctor explained. “So when I get here, I try to spot out someone who kind of seems like me, who kind of comes in and has that confidence, but not really feeling like yourself around a big place like this.
“But just trying to help him and keep him focused. Let him know that even though, yeah, you believe you’d be here, you believe you’re good enough, it’s still going to be day by day. You still have days where you have to improve. You’re not going to be right there with us from day one. You’ve just got to take it step by step. Just be yourself.”