C.J. Stroud looks like the steal of the 2023 NFL Draft eight games into his career, as he's played far better than Carolina's Bryce Young or any other rookie quarterback while slinging the rock for the Houston Texans.
But coming off a record-setting win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one in which he threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns, there was something, or someone, more important on his mind: his father, Coleridge Bernard Stroud. The elder Stroud has been in prison since 2016, and Stroud said he talked to him before his record-setting day.
"What I've been battling with is trying to still be a family man, still help out, and still be a football player and do my job," Stroud said when asked about the win over Tampa. "It's been tough."
He continued: "I got to talk to my dad a little bit this week," he said. "And I'm praying to God that something can happen that he can get out and come to one of these games. I've been praying for him a lot."
What shouldn?t get lost in CJ Stroud?s historic day was when asked about breaking the record he mentioned being a family man and talked about the criminal justice system involving his dad. pic.twitter.com/z6RzS5N7R5
— DJ Bien-Aime (@Djbienaime) November 6, 2023
Stroud then used his spotlight to talk about what he believes is wrong with the American criminal justice system. He then talk about the conditions of prisons in Mississippi, which he has seen videos of.
"Our criminal justice system isn't right, and it's something that I need to probably be a little more vocal about, because what he's going through is not right," he said. "He called me this week, and we got to talk, and I'm praying for the situation and a reform, and the people with reform are helping me a little bit. But, I think just letting it be known that it's not just my dad's situation, but the whole criminal justice system is corrupt."
"Some of the prisons there have rats, roaches and things like that," he said. "Don't get me wrong — criminals, they should do their time, but they're still humans, know what I mean? I just want to shine a light on that really quick."
The 22-year-old Stroud is clearly a mature man. He went from the face of the Ohio State Buckeyes to one of the bright young faces of the NFL, and he did so largely without having his dad by his side. Stroud's father went to prison while Stroud was still in middle school, leaving him, his mom and his three siblings to rely on each other.
Years later, as he's lighting up NFL defenses, Stroud is able to look back and be proud of where he is.
CJ Stroud's Parents: The Tragic Tale of His Father
Stroud grew up the youngest of four kids. His early life was centered on church life at the Life Application Christian Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California, an hour outside of Los Angeles where his father, Coleridge Bernard Stroud, was a pastor. His mother, Kimberly Stroud, was the first lady of the church.
C.J. Stroud's father, whom Stroud is named after (officially, Coleridge Bernard Stroud IV), was the first to put a ball in his son's hands when he was 5. He considered his father his best friend before he was sent to prison — for a second time — while Stroud was still in middle school.
At 13, CJ Stroud?s dad was imprisoned & his family left in financial ruin. They lived at a storage facility & couldn?t afford him new cleats or contacts.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) December 30, 2022
Coleridge Bernard Stroud had turned his life around after he was imprisoned 20 years earlier for a drug conviction. He was a pastor, a successful executive, a coach and a father to C.J's older brothers, Isaiah and Asmar, as well as his sister, Cieara, and, of course, C.J.
Drugs made their way back into Coleridge's life while his children were young. A divorce from Kim only fueled a spiral that led him back to prison. In 2016, he was convicted on charges of carjacking and kidnapping, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
He's still being held in California's Folsom State Prison, where he isn't eligible for parole until 2040.
For a long time, C.J. Stroud refused to speak publicly about his father's struggles. The Stroud family was forced to live in a storage facility, and couldn't afford to buy cleats or contact lenses after Coleridge's arrest. But C.J. wants to be an advocate for those going through similar childhoods.
"It's definitely tough, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. My pops, he was my best friend, to have your best friend be snatched like that, it was tough. My mom tried her best to make sure we were straight, but a lot of times I was on my own. It's a lot that went through it, but when I talk to him now, I don't hold any ill will. I told him, 'I love you.' He made his mistakes, I've made mine. It's not about the bad. Just being a Black man in this world, we're held for the bad stuff we do, not the blessings. My dad went to prison before he had us, before he met my mom, for six years. He changed his life for 25 years and was past it," he told 247Sports.
"I grew up in church like Bijan Robinson. I was a pastor's son. I didn't have a Christmas or Thanksgiving where I wasn't giving trying to help. I just look at the things my dad did that were positive, but for a while, I wasn't like that. I hated my pops, for real. Like man, how could you leave me like that? As I became an adult, I realized the stress it is on Black men to uphold the household. A lot of people don't care about us. Even some people in your own house don't care. You have a job to do, I'm 20 years old, I'm still young, but that's my job in my house. And that's a lot of stress. If I didn't have God in my life, I don't know where I'd be."
Stroud said he has forgiven his father. He understand people make mistakes. He's also thankful for the time he and his father shared when he was young, because that's what helped make him the man and football player he is today.
Kim Stroud had a lot do with that too.
How C.J. Stroud's Mother Stepped Up
Coleridge's imprisonment left Kim to raise four kids by herself. She worked as a property manager, but money was tight. She had to downsize houses four different times.
"It sucked," Stroud told The Columbus Dispatch. "But now it teaches me that money really doesn't matter. Money really isn't an object to me because it can be gone in the blink of an eye, which I think is a positive (thing to understand)."
Still, Stroud became a two-sport star at Rancho Cucamonga High School in football and basketball. As a point guard, he led the Cougars to a CIF Division II runner-up finish in 2018. He also threw 47 touchdowns as a senior quarterback. And he realized his future was football. Michigan's Jim Harbaugh once came and watched an entire game of his. Georgia made an offer to him. But it was Ryan Day's Ohio State football program that Stroud chose.
Kim was instrumental in getting him there, but she acknowledges that she didn't do it by herself.
"We had a lot of support from a lot of different coaches on travel-ball teams," Kim told The Columbus Dispatch. "It took a village. Because he was so talented, there were so many people that kind of rallied around him and kept him involved. There were times where I couldn't pay for certain equipment that he needed, but they would give C.J. the equipment anyway. But it was a hard time for C.J. from seventh grade into high school."
Oddly enough, C.J. Stroud has athletic gene ties to one of the best athletes of all time. Jim Thorpe, who is one of the great Olympic athletes of all time and has a college football award in his name, is a distant ancestor on Kim's side of the family.
Regardless of Stroud's performance against Michigan last season, Ohio State still made the College Football Playoff, where they lost a one-point game to the national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Still, Stroud cemented himself in Ohio State University and Big Ten history, placing his name in a recent crop of great Ohio State quarterbacks like Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins.
It took a village to get him to this point, but C.J. Stroud is ready to return the favor and then some.
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