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By now, C.J. Stroud knows the routine. His phone buzzes, and when he picks up, he’s met with an automated message telling him he’s receiving a call from an inmate at Folsom State Prison. He’s asked if he wants to accept. He selects 5. He waits.

After a few nervy moments, he hears a voice on the other end. It belongs to his father.

For a while — for almost six years — C.J. would have silenced the call and ignored it. He wasn’t ready. He was still hurt, still bitter. Coleridge Stroud III, prisoner-turned-pastor, went away when his youngest son was only 13, sentenced in California to 38 years after pleading guilty to charges of carjacking, kidnapping, robbery and misdemeanor sexual assault, a repeat offender paying a price for crimes committed decades earlier.

C.J. had grown up calling him Pops, thinking of him as his best friend. Then he was gone, gone in an instant, leaving the family to scrape by, to sweat the bills that kept piling up, to live in a cramped apartment above a storage facility 40 miles east of Los Angeles but a world away.

For years, the son couldn’t forgive. He refused to speak to his father.

It was Dad who had taught him to throw a spiral, who would sit on the bed in their old house and catch passes from little C.J. while he darted around the room, showing off his arm. “Wow, you can throw it pretty good,” Dad would marvel. “Let’s try this outside.” And when they did, C.J. kept flinging it, impressing Dad even more. “Wow, son, you throw a football better than I can.”

But after Dad went away, the money grew tight, the climb harder. C.J. rode the bench his first two years of high school, envious when two quarterbacks from the area — Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei — started receiving scholarship offers in the eighth grade. “Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance,” Kimberly Stroud used to tell her son. “Patience, patience, patience.”

He remembers his first offer. He was a junior. Colorado wanted him. The two of them, mother and son, sat in that little apartment above the storage facility and “cried like babies,” he says.

He visited Ohio State, and when Justin Fields told him, “Come take this over,” C.J. listened. He became one of the best passers in program history, steeled by the hard lessons he’d endured off the field. “My story is different than others,” Stroud says. More lessons would wait. He turned pro, then days before the draft, a report leaked that he’d flunked the S2 Cognition test, a set of exams that claim to “make the undefinable qualities of top athletes quantifiable.”

“What’s a man gonna do to me?” Stroud asks now. “I fear God. I don’t fear no situation, I don’t fear a team, I don’t fear an owner. What’s so bad that’s gonna happen? I’m gonna drop to No. 10? Look at my perspective. I’m gonna get drafted regardless of that dang test.”

He didn’t drop. He went second to the Texans, and his play has made a mockery of the S2 test’s viability — if Stroud’s leaked scores were even accurate in the first place. So far, he’s playing as well as any rookie quarterback has in a decade.

As for the test?

“I got down to how it happened, so I got some heads to bust in the offseason,” Stroud says, laughing just enough to make you think he might be serious.

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