For most experts, CJ Stroud has long been considered the hottest contender for the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. What many do not know: In his youth, the quarterback had to cope with a family stroke of fate that presented him with a decision.
It’s not exactly everyday that a college football player sits on a podium for justice reform in the US alongside glamor star Kim Kardashian. However, CJ Stroud is present at this dinner organized by the “Reform Alliance” initiative at the beginning of the year for good reasons.
The Ohio State Buckeyes athlete has a personal cause. One that had a huge impact on him in his youth. Stroud is committed to helping inmates get out of prison earlier in the United States. His father would also benefit from this.
Stroud is just 13 years old when his life changes forever. Father Coleridge Stroud III is sentenced to 38 years in prison in April 2015. He had pleaded guilty to auto theft, kidnapping, robbery, fleeing an officer with reckless driving and the offense of sexual assault.
Father Stroud had just stopped a woman in downtown San Diego and taken the car by force – he wanted to buy drugs in a house. It turned out differently: In the end, he threw himself into the port of the Californian coastal city while trying to escape. One drama – with another problem: Stroud had had problems with the law before and had been convicted before.
It is true that these drug possession, theft, vehicle takeover and armed robbery offenses date back decades (over 20 years). But California law shows no mercy for repeated violations. The controversial “Three Strike Law” then allows the penalty to be doubled even for not particularly severe penalties. So Stroud ended up at 38 years old.
The family suffers from the loss
For the family and for 13-year-old CJ Stroud, the painful loss of his father came as a shock that almost drove them to financial ruin. Mother Kimberley had to take on the role of sole breadwinner. She had to move several times with her four children, and once they were on the verge of becoming homeless.
The rescue offered a job as a warehouse manager. The family was allowed to live in the small apartment above it. CJ Stroud himself made no secret of how tense things were in high school. “We’re broke,” he said in those times.
It wasn’t just the finances that were bad, the relationship between father and son was also broken. Young CJ was devastated. He resented growing up without him and his support. For years he did not see or speak to his father.
“My dad was my best friend and losing him like that was tough,” Stroud says of the relationship today. “I look at my dad’s pages now that were positive, but for quite a while, it wasn’t. I really hated him. I mean, how could you let me down like that?” Stroud explained on the podcast The pivot”.
“Hell and Back”
At school, teachers and football coaches were concerned. The difficult family situation in life also had an impact on sport. As the youngest of four Stroud children (two brothers, one sister), his life was suddenly turned upside down. And this life was anything but easy. Looking back, Stroud speaks of a “roller coaster ride”, a “hell and back”.
There was a lack of money everywhere, so he often played with old shoes – there was simply no money for new shoes. The result: blisters on your feet. Sometimes he even did without new contact lenses and only played with one. There was neither a private coach nor special sports nutrition. Instead, he even got packed lunches from the school.
In between, the performance suffered. “You could tell,” his former coach Willie Munford told Sports Illustrated. “He was quiet. He wasn’t playing as well as usual. He still had a good arm, but he got very quiet.” A critical period.
Mom Kimberley puts it succinctly: “He had a choice when his dad left,” she says. “He would let that motivate him and be the best, or he would succumb to it all and become a statistic of a kid whose parent did something they shouldn’t.” To this day, she is amazed by her child’s resilience. “I sit and am amazed at how resilient he is. CJ is the most amazing person I have ever met.”
Sport as an outlet
He continued to develop his game as a high schooler, becoming a starter playmaker in fourth year. Football became an outlet. Along with basketball, his first sporting love. Stroud could have easily pursued a career as a professional basketball player.
A talented shooting guard, he also captained the high school basketball team in Rancho Cucamonga, Southern California. In the playoffs, he once hit an important three-pointer from far out and sent the indoor fans freaking out. CJ Stroud – the celebrated hero.
Even then, the football coaches saw how much potential he had. “He could throw balls that others couldn’t,” recalled Coach Munford. And so it’s not surprising that towards the end of high school, colleges are coming up with offers.
When Ohio State’s renowned university called, CJ Stroud was moved to tears. Coach Ryan Day raved about the quarterback’s ambition: “He worked it all out himself. He watched Drew Brees’ YouTube films and improved.” After a year of training as a backup, he also started in Ohio. He led the Buckeyes to a strong record as a starting quarterback in 2021 and 2022, and to the semifinals of the college championship in 2022. The NFL scouts have had him on their list for a long time.
Experts praise his accurate throws and his good and sure hand. Due to his size (1.91 m at 97 kg) and athleticism, the 21-year-old could be considered a safer choice by the teams compared to the slimmer Bryce Young (1.78 m), who as a quarterback was also a number one pick becomes. The Carolina Panthers are the first team to pick in the draft, and the team could use a good quarterback.
Prison visit before the NFL draft
Before the draft, however, he has an even more important date. Before the event takes place in Kansas City, he finally wants to visit his father in prison. It’s the first meeting in years. For years he ignored calls and messages from prison. The relationship only relaxed about two years ago. Father and son keep talking to each other on the phone – after five years of radio silence.
When CJ Stroud went empty-handed at the Heisman Trophy (best college player) in 2022, his father called him and encouraged him to talk. Since then, at the latest, mother Kimberley knew: the boy forgave the father. “When I talk to him, I don’t hold grudges anymore,” CJ Stroud said on The Pivot. “I told him I loved him. He made mistakes, so did I. It’s not about the bad.”
Nobody knows at the moment whether his father will be allowed out of prison sooner. Mom Kimberly remains optimistic. She assumes that her husband will be out of prison before 2040. In that year, according to current law, he would only be entitled to early release. Then he would be 74.
Son CJ, meanwhile, worked out a way out with appearances like the “Reform Alliance” dinner. He has a clear motto. He wrote about pictures and classifying words on ideas for judicial reform: #FreePops. freedom for dad