With poise and surety of purpose that far surpasses his 21 years, the two-time All-Big Ten first-teamer is already both a fan favorite and a brand deal darling. With partnerships from DSW to Express and American Eagle, Stroud has already proved himself a bankable asset and a charitable giver, gifting his teammates in major ways from the brands. Then there’s his game. The 6’3, 240-pound flamethrower is a lethal combination of accuracy, productivity, and athleticism. In his final game for Ohio State, Stroud passed for 348 yards and four touchdowns against a nearly perfect Georgia Bulldog defense. The Buckeyes would lose the semifinal game, but any doubts about whether CJ Stroud could be a franchise player were silenced.
Now, with his NFL fate sealed, Stroud’s ready to make some noise with a Texans team that will depend on him to set the tone.
TIDAL invited BLACK ENTERPRISE to chat with the two-time Heisman finalist ahead of draft day about his journey to the league, how his faith keeps him focused, and why he’d rather be an inspiration than an influencer.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: This is a big day, CJ. What’s been the road to get you here?
CJ Stroud: It goes all the way back to when I was a kid. I always had a goal that I wanted to accomplish. I just didn’t know whether it would be football or basketball. I really made my decision in high school, and it wasn’t until college, my redshirt freshman year, that I really started to believe that I could make it to the NFL. It’s been a process of hard work. A lot of late nights and early mornings to get to this point. But this is the fun part now. This is the part where I get to enjoy it and just spend time with my family. Today is the icing on the cake.
BE: If you could describe your game using the flow of three rappers, who would they be and why?
Oh, that’s a great question. I always talk about Nipsey Hussle, but I’d have to go with him. We have a lot of similar characteristics being from the same place. And we’re the same type of person in the sense of being about the community and wanting to help people. That’s how I play football; I want to help my teammates be better, and I want to inspire and motivate people.
The second person would probably be Meek Mill. He was one of my favorites growing up; he gave me a lot of motivation. But as far as his rapping style, he can switch it up. He can go mellow or chill, and then he can turn it up and make a club banger: those are two things that I think I can do on the football field. The third one would probably be a singer, actually. Someone like SZA. The way she sings about love; that’s how I feel about the game. You can hear the love in her voice; you can tell she loves what she does.
BE: Let’s talk about drowning out the noise; what’s your focus heading into the next level of your career?
It’s definitely something that no one can really prepare you for; it just comes with the territory. I have a great team around me that helps me stay focused on what I need to do. But really, I just lean on God. He’s the ultimate judge; he’s the ultimate decision-maker. If I’m OK with him, then I’m good. At the end of the day, this is just a game. It’s something that I take very, very seriously, but I know the difference between life and football. As far as critics go, I respect everyone’s opinions. Critics are going to critique. They’re just doing their jobs. I try to stay away from feelings and just focus on facts. But, on the other hand, when we get on their head…they get mad at us. (laughs)
BE: You’re partnering with TIDAL to give your fans a look inside the music fueling you for the big day. Tell us about that.
Music is definitely one of the ways I drown out the noise of everything. Even leading up to the draft, there’s been things happening, and music helps me get in my zone. I partnered with TIDAL so people can hear what I’m listening to. I’m going to be updating my playlist right up until one of the biggest moments of my life.
BE: You’ll also be sharing what a day in your life is like. What will people be able to see about you on a day like today?
I’m an easygoing person. I’m not a person who gets too high or too low. People are asking me about being nervous, but I’m just like, ‘The hard work is already done.’ It’s just time to have fun and enjoy the night. I think people will really see that. I’m always pretty chill. Fans can also come check me out on Lockerverse; there will be a lot of behind-the-scenes things for people to see.
BE: You said, “I don’t want to be an influencer; I want to be inspirational. What or who inspires you? And what do you think is the difference between influence and inspiration?
People who inspire me are people who really stand up for what they believe in, unapologetically. Something that I’m really big on is being myself through and through, no matter who’s in the room. The best version of me is when I am just being myself. People who inspire me are people like Nipsey Hussle, LeBron James; there are people in the corporate sector I really look up to. There’s a lot of great brothers out here who are doing those type of movements to help the young guys out. That’s what I aspire to do. I won’t say being an influencer is selfish because everyone has their own reasons. For me, influencing is about trying to get people to do something that will help make you money right now. Being an inspiration is about pushing people to become the better version of themselves. Influencing is just putting a brand out there and promoting that brand. Inspiration comes from within and from a good heart. I do have some influence but inspiration is definitely more important, in my opinion.
BE: What do you want football fans to know about CJ Stroud?
I’m a regular person. People don’t think we are, but you’d be surprised. I am always even keel, so people think I lack emotion. But honestly, I’m a sensitive person. Of course, on the field, I have to be a certain way but off the field, I’m just me. People are saying, “This is the biggest moment of your life,” and honestly, it’s not. It’s just a stepping stool. It’s something that God wanted me to knock off my list of goals, and now we’re here. I gotta go right back to work after tonight. Of course, I’m excited; it’s going to be a new journey. But I’m not changing. I’m going to continue to be myself, whether you like it or not.