INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (WCMH) — Ohio State University quarterback C.J. Stroud, receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and safety Ronnie Hickman represented the Buckeyes at Big Ten media days Wednesday.

This time last year, head coach Ryan Day hadn’t named a starting quarterback. This season, Stroud is the clear leader of the team after finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy vote.

“I think I’m a natural-born leader,” Stroud said. “I’m very vocal. Sometimes I think I’m too vocal. I try to keep it real because I feel like those who keep it real with you in your life are the ones who do care, so I often call my guys out, but I tell them to call me out if I’m doing something wrong.”

Stroud didn’t do much wrong last season, throwing for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns, and only six interceptions while breaking several OSU single-season records, including completion percentage (71.9), passer rating (198.6), and yards per game (345.1).

He’s the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman even ahead of last year’s winner: Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

“I’m not really focused too much on just the Heisman. I just want to win. I just want to go 1-0 each week, 1-0 a game, 1-0 in film session, 1-0 practice,” Stroud said. “I feel if you do that, you stack days, and things like that could come, so I’m just hoping for the best with that.”

Another way Stroud has embraced his leadership role is by having teammates over for meals at his house.

“I like to have dudes over just to build trust,” Stroud said. “I show them my lifestyle, how I live and just try to show the younger dudes that there’s other ways than balling out on the field. You can be successful as a businessman, too, so I show them some different things that I do in the NIL space and just cook for them, have fellowship, and have a brotherhood.”

Stroud has thrived in the NIL era, signing deals with Value City Furniture, Designer Shoe Warehouse, Express and Sarchione Auto Gallery which gave him a $200,000 Mercedes G-Wagon as part of their deal.

His go-to target, Smith-Njigba, has benefitted greatly from NIL as well. He, Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and cornerback Denzel Burke were part of a deal with The Foundation that included $550,000 for the four Buckeyes.

“I’m a big NIL fan,” Smith-Njigba said with a laugh. “It comes with a lot of things. You’ve got to have a good team around you, have a good head, you know? Make sure you’re not doing too much.”

Smith-Njigba is preparing as OSU’s No. 1 receiver after the departure of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, who were both drafted in the top 11 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

He drew national attention in the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl win when he broke or tied four OSU records:

  • Most receiving yards in a single season (1,605)
  • Most receiving yards in a single game (347)
  • Most receptions in a single season (95)
  • Tied his own record for most catches in a single game (15)

“Our [receiver] room is pretty stacked,” Smith-Njigba said. “We’ve got Emeka Egbuka, who’s going to come on the scene this year, he’s a great talent; Julian Fleming, of course; Kam Babb. We have a room this year for sure.”

The biggest question entering this season is how will the Buckeyes’ defense perform after the departure of Kerry Coombs and the addition of Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator. Hickman led OSU in tackles last season and said the goal is to be top-five in the nation.

“We’re looking to be a fast, physical defense,” Hickman said. “Coach Knowles is aggressive and he has no problem with letting that be known. He knows the best way for us to play fast is by not thinking so much . . . I’m excited for our defense. The sky’s the limit.”

The Buckeyes report to fall camp on Aug. 3 and will have their first practice Aug. 4.