COLUMBUS — C.J. Stroud has been entrenched in a quarterback battle before.
He nearly won the starting job early in his career atÂ Rancho Cucamonga High School (California). With plenty of potential and a strong arm, he went head-to-head with then-junior Nick Acosta throughout the summer leading into his freshman year of high school. A veteran who knew the offense, Acosta narrowly won the quarterback battle.
Stroud did not shy away from the competition, though. He developed behind Acosta for two seasons, waiting for him to graduate. By the time Stroud took the starting job as a junior at Rancho Cucamonga, he had mastered the offense and had grown into the team’s leader.
When Ohio State begins training camp on Aug. 3, Stroud again will be in the midst of a quarterback battle. This time he looks like the leader. Stroud proved this spring he has the talent and skills to be the Buckeyes starting signal caller, and he’ll have to do show that again next month.Â His experiences from his meteoric rise at Rancho Cucamonga shows what drives the rising Ohio State star.
“He’s beyond an intelligent quarterback so every year he got better, wasn’t just his sophomore, junior year,” Stroudâ€™s high school coach and offensive coordinator Mark Verti recently said on the Tim May Podcast. “The guy [Nick Acosta] graduated, but C.J. every year was getting better from just throwing [the ball]. He always threw a nice deep ball, nice accurate deep ball and then he started realizing that you don’t need to go deep every time. You can throw it off and drop it off. But by the end of his junior he’s getting better and better, his audibles, his protections all this stuff was right on.”
Verti had a front row seat to watch Stroud’s rise on the national recruiting scene. The quarterback started to develop confidence in his first season as Rancho Cucamonga’s starting quarterback in 2018 when he completed 180 of 300 pass attempts for 2,342 yards and 19 touchdowns. As his film got in front of more and more college coaches, scholarship offers started to trickle in.
Just a three-star recruit headed into the summer before his senior year, the 2019 Elite 11 Finals changed the entire trajectory of his football career. His ability to throw the ball anywhere across the field and knack for reading defenses put him on the map as he won the Elite 11 MVP title.
When he retuned to Rancho Cucamonga for his final season, he was becomingÂ theÂ quarterback in the 2020 class. Verti saw Stroud begin to study the game as an elite quarterback, too.
“He’d come in Mondays and know all of our plays that we’re going to put in — he had those down,” Verti said. “And he had come up with some other ones that he thought would be open and he’d have a reason for doing it. Not just like: ‘Hey, I saw this when I was playing Madden. Let’s run it.’ He’ll show me clips off of film he’s watched. And he was like: ‘Hey, look at this. We can beat them with this zone here. And if we do this play here that we have the.’ Plays that weren’t even in the playbook out of a different formations, he would know those.
“He spent hours on film. Because of that trust we built up as a staff with him, we trusted what he was saying and he was right a lot of times with that.”
By the end of his recruitment Stroud was ranked as the second-overall pro-style quarterback in the class and had offers from Michigan, Georgia, Oregon and USC. Ohio State waited to offer until October of his senior season. But once the Buckeyes offered they fell in love with the skills Stroud brought.
With one of the strongest arms in his recruiting class, the Buckeyes knew they could refine his game even more. And Stroud’s athleticism allows himto escape the pocket and make plays on the run.Â But what he excels at best is playing under pressure. Ohio State saw it in his film. Verti watched it live from the sidelines.
And now the Buckeyes have seen it in practices, one of the top reasons he is the leader to line up behind center when they begin the season at Minnesota.
“The field bringing pressure, right, the time of the game, the pace of the game, the score the game, it doesn’t rattle him at all,” Verti said. “He’s just level-keel kind of a guy. Play just comes natural to him. Saw it on the basketball court when he played basketball for our school, that fourth quarter, overtime — it doesn’t bug him. He wants the ball in his hands. He wants to make that play.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around. He wants to win ever everything from a little competition to practice the game. So he’s gonna do what it takes to win.”