After sitting out in September, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud grew into a Heisman Trophy finalist

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

NEW YORK — The pain was sharp.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud watches from the sideline during Ohio State's game against Akron. Stroud sat out that game to rest an ailing shoulder.

In the wake of each throw made by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud in a win over Tulsa on Sept. 18, he managed the discomfort by letting his right throwing arm hang by his side.

It eased some of the stress on a separated joint in his shoulder.

But the soreness had persisted for two weeks, a result of a hit he had absorbed in the opening game at Minnesota, and as it continued to affect his accuracy, he needed another fix.

One of those ideas came from his mother. She proposed he sit out the following game against Akron and get rest for his shoulder.

When he brought up the suggestion to Ryan Day, the Buckeyes coach agreed.

“He was the one who kind of approved it,” Stroud said, “and was like, ‘Yeah, you kind of need to.’ ”

Looking back on that stretch three months later, Kimberly Stroud saw it as practical advice for her son.

“I always want my children to take care of themselves,” she said, “because one small thing could end up to be something bigger if you don’t care of it. I definitely tried all the home remedies, and they weren’t working, so I told him, ‘You need to take care of yourself.’ But he’s a competitor, and he wants to be there for the team, and that was weighing on him.”

It ultimately proved to be a pivotal period of time for the redshirt freshman in his season-long growth, which culminated with an appearance at the Heisman Trophy ceremony Saturday night.

After being out for a week, Stroud rebounded and stepped up as a more precise passer in October and November. Before resting his shoulder, he was completing 62% of his attempts. In the following eight games, his completion percentage was 74%.

Stroud not only recalls his spell on the sideline as a chance for his shoulder to recover, but also as an opportunity for him to his put mind at ease as he dealt with the pressure of leading one of college football’s powerhouse programs for the first time. He said the physical and mental benefits were split 50-50.

“It was good to kind of get a rest from everything,” Stroud added, “and sit back and realize what position I’m in, and the responsibility that I have. Of course, physically I got to rest, and I got the shoulder corrected.”

The early weeks of the season had brought a share of criticism directed at Stroud.

On message boards and social media, a segment of the rabid Ohio State fanbase second-guessed Day’s decision to start Stroud.

Some wondered if there was a better alternative elsewhere to succeed former star Justin Fields, especially with a quarterback room filled with other former decorated recruits.

Others simply nitpicked his various throws.

Stroud said he avoided a lot of the chatter, frequently logging off his accounts on Instagram and Twitter. But it was impossible to ignore all of it. People looking to support him would pass along that talk.

“I didn't really hear it directly,” Stroud said, “but I have family and friends that I talk to, and they'll tell me what somebody said. Some people say it jokingly, but I take it to heart. It’s my job. I love football.”

Being at the center and absorbing the sky-high expectations of Buckeye Nation was a new experience for him.

He wasn’t the only one in his family, either.

Being at the center of attention and dealing with high expectations of Ohio State fans was a new experience for quarterback C.J. Stroud.

“It was hard for me,” Kimberly said, “because I’m a mama bear. I don’t want anybody talking about my kid. And he’s such a wonderful person that some of it hurt. I learned quickly that you have to have thick skin, especially when your child is the quarterback, and you can’t listen to the outside noise.”

Over the season, Stroud became more comfortable in the spotlight.

It helped that he had the support of the coaching staff right away. After a loss to Oregon in the team’s second game, Day made sure to utter at a news conference days later that Stroud was “not our issue.”

Encouragement also came from the likes of veteran receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

“People are going to talk good or bad, so you might as well do you,” Stroud said, “and remain faithful to God.”

As he decompressed in late September, that outlook only set in deeper. Throughout this fall, he’s sought to follow advice from Day in managing the ups and downs that go with life as a quarterback.

It urges him and other teammates not to ride a roller coaster of emotions, not to get too high at the top of the track or too low when it drops.

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The experience also added to Stroud aiming to stay even-keeled.

“You don’t know you’re in the storm until you’re in it,” he said. “It’s definitely something that I had to adapt and being myself and learn to stop people-pleasing.”

Continued rehab also had a hand in Stroud’s rise, becoming the first-ever Buckeyes freshman selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

He heads to the training room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center nearly every morning and comes in after each practice for resistance band exercises and shoulder massages.

“Definitely had a strict routine of just getting right,” Stroud said.

No surgery will be required this offseason. Stroud has just needed to stay diligent, and as he has for much of this fall, stay on his path and keep trudging ahead.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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