Rookie Quarterback C.J. Stroud's Pregame Ritual, Breaks for Mom, Sparks Playoff Victory
Brian Barefield | 1/9/2024, 5:23 p.m.
Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has a pregame routine that he dislikes breaking. He walks, stretches, swings a golf club, and takes a couple of pretend jump shots with a basketball before he picks up a football for warmup throws.
Having his headphones on makes it easier to block out all the stadium noises and allows him to focus on what will come once the game begins.
There is only one person he will break that routine for, and that is his mother, Kimberly Stroud, who has been at every big game of C.J.’s career, and there was no way she was going to miss the biggest game of his rookie season with so much on the line. She wanted to be there. She needed to be there along with his siblings to let him know that they were in the fight together. Here from the sidelines and him on the field.
That is why there was no surprise when he stopped his routine after he spotted her behind the ropes on the sidelines during his pregame warmups. As he had done so many times growing up, Stroud ran over to his mom with a massive smile and embraced her. She returned the hug, letting him know that everything would be okay. No matter the game’s outcome, she was there and would be rooting him on from the sidelines.
Knowing that she was in the building gave Stroud all the confidence he needed as he helped lead the Texans back into the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2019 with a 23-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. If the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Houston will be crowned 2023-24 AFC South Champions and host a playoff game at NRG Stadium.
“I kept looking at her,” Stroud said after the game. “More times than not I don’t be finding her. She was so close I could hear her. She prays. Honestly, when I look up and I see her praying, it just gives me a sense of comfort, a sense of, like, my mama is praying for me. It’s got to go good.”
“I love my mom to death. She’s so supportive of me. She’s been with me through thick and thin, and I love her to death. My sister as well, my brother, my other brother, Isaiah. I miss him. I love him. Just really all my support staff. Not my support staff. Excuse me. My supportive family, Caleb, my best friends back home, the city of I.E. (Inland Empire California).”
The prayers from Kimberly Stroud may have contained a little added request for success this game for her son, and they were answered early when he found wide receiver Nico Collins on the first play from scrimmage with a 75-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 7-3 lead.
“We didn’t think they were going to be in that coverage, but Slow (Bobby Slowik) is a dog, man, Slow is our guy,” Stroud responded when asked about the first offensive play. “He had a feeling we could hit them up top. Nico (Collins) did a great job creating separation. I tried to do my best to get it out there. Man, it’s cool just to see Nico just ball out. That was a special first play, man. Special.”
Stroud’s heroics weren’t done yet as he saved his best for last. With the game tied at 17 early in the fourth quarter, he knew that his team depended on him to come through significantly if they were going to live to play another week. The Texans’ second overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft has a mantra he lives by: “Pressure is a privilege.”
Houston faced much adversity in the 12-play, 73-yard scoring drive that resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by running back Devin Singletary to give the Texans the lead and the eventual victory. Two times, they needed 20 yards to get a first down to keep the drive alive, and Stroud completed passes to tight end Dalton Shultz and Collins, giving Houston more confidence that they could win the game. He did not have an incompletion, going 7-of-7 for 82 yards on that drive that consisted of over seven minutes.
“I told them before we went out there, I said, this is the most important drive of the year, and the look that I got back from my teammates, man, it was, like, let’s ride, let’s do this thing,” said Stroud who finished the game with 264 yards passing and two touchdowns. “There was nobody holding their hat down on a previous play or anything like that. It was just like, man, let’s go win this game.”
“Let’s do it. Every play, even we moved backwards, I think two or three times when we had two, three penalties, and we still persevered through that. I just think that’s the testimony to the work we put in, the type of guys that we brought into the system, our coaching staff. They called a great game. Just a multitude of our organization just putting it together. I’m just blessed enough to be a part of it.”
As she waited patiently for her son to finish his postgame press conference, Kimberly laughed and smiled with her children. Once Stroud made the corner, she gave him the same motherly embrace that they had shared pregame, but this one was a little tighter, given the adversity he had overcome in his life and finishing his rookie regular season in the NFL helping lead a franchise who had been in shambles the last three years reach the postseason.
“Most of the people who have poured into me as a kid to see me do what I’m doing now, it’s a tremendous blessing,” said Stroud about the tremendous support he has received throughout his journey to the NFL.