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Texans QB C.J. Stroud excited for Ohio return even if he expects 'booing'

A record-setting performance is the ideal precursor to a homecoming of sorts. C.J. Stroud will enjoy the fruits of such a sequence this Sunday in Cincinnati.

The home of the Bengals isn't exactly next door to Columbus, Ohio, the site of Stroud's Ohio State University, but it's close enough. And in Ohio, there are only two types of football fans -- those who support Ohio State, and those who do not -- meaning he can count on plenty of Buckeyes fans showing up for his team's trip to Paycor Stadium.

They just might not be there to support his Houston Texans. That's fine in Stroud's eyes; He's just there to do what he did plenty of in scarlet and gray: Win games in the Buckeye State.

"Yeah, man. I'm excited," Stroud said Wednesday, via the team's transcript. "I know it'll be a couple Ohio State fans there, maybe. But they'll probably be booing me that day, so it is what it is, and I'm excited to go back to Ohio and play. I wish it was a little colder. [laughs] Nah, I'm happy it's not cold. But yeah, for sure, I'm excited."

Sunday makes for an interesting matchup. Joe Burrow reigns in Cincinnati as the chosen savior of the Bengals, delivering an AFC title in 2021 and an AFC North title in 2022, and he's an Ohio product, growing up less than 150 miles from Cincinnati in the much smaller area of Athens, Ohio. He's also a former Buckeye, even if the folks down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, bristle at this notion.

Effectively, this is a showdown of two former Buckeyes, even if Burrow transferred to LSU in order to receive a chance to start at quarterback for the Tigers. Stroud isn't from the state, though: The Southern California kid just so happened to rise late in his recruiting process (via his Elite 11 showing) and ended up following the bread crumbs to Columbus.

Still, Stroud is aware of what Sunday means to those in the state he'll be visiting. And he knows Burrow has set a standard he's still aiming to match.

"Joe [Burrow] is someone that I respect a lot," Stroud said. "I was a big fan of his, especially when he was at LSU, and then of course, he was at Ohio State, so we have that kind of similarity. We met each other over the summer, and we got to talk about some of the things that we had [in common], us being Buckeyes and stuff like that. He had a lot of great advice for me that I'm still using to this day.

"So, [he's] somebody that I look up to and really, really happy that he's getting it rolling. He's having a great season so far – definitely think he's an MVP in this league. He's a top-five player every year – just showing that ever since his second year – really had a really good rookie year as well, but sadly got hurt. A lot of things to learn from that guy.

"He's a hell of a leader and a really good person – somebody that only isn't looking out for himself. He shot me a text over the year congratulating me on some of the success and things like that, gave me some advice and things like that. Shoutout to Joe, man. I'm excited to lineup against him and compete against those guys."

Stroud is off to a phenomenal start in 2023, setting rookie records for the most consecutive pass attempts to start a career without throwing an interception (191). He broke a mark held by Andrew Luck for more than a decade last weekend, finishing with 470 passing yards and five touchdowns in an incredible 39-37 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Because of Stroud's performance, fans in Houston finally have a reason to be excited about the Texans again. Suddenly, they're circling upcoming games on Houston's schedule, starting with this weekend's meeting with the ascending Bengals.

"Yeah, I think it's huge. I think for so long, they've been fiending for a good Texans season or a good Texans team," Stroud said. "Just something to be excited for other than the Astros and the Rockets playing [well]. So, for us, [and] I think for [coach] DeMeco [Ryans] especially -- he played for the Texans, and he's been in Houston for a long time -- and that was one of his main goals, was just to make people want to be around again, and I think we're doing that. So, it's an honor, man, to have people tuned back in.

"Every week, I feel like we're getting more people in the crowd. Honestly, when we played the Colts, that was my first time in a long, long time that I played in front of a full stadium, so I just want it to be back to that. Because even Case [Keenum] tells me when he first got here, 'Man, the games used to be cracking.' Everybody used to come out – from fans to celebrities. I feel like we have a good buzz now, and now it's time to take it to the next level, on the field it starts, and then off the field just with the support of the fans, so we appreciate it, man."

Folks outside of football have started to notice. Los Angeles Lakers superstar and Akron, Ohio, product LeBron James -- a well-known fan of the Buckeyes -- is reveling in Stroud's early success.

"I watch all former Ohio State Buckeyes," James said, per the Houston Chronicle. "He's impressive. He's definitely offensive rookie of the year, as it stands right now. Very impressive, very poised and a franchise quarterback."

Stroud will attempt to outduel another franchise signal-caller in the Buckeye State this weekend. If he does, he and the Texans can expect to see a spotlight shift to them for the foreseeable future -- a place Stroud already knows all too well.

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