COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud spoke with NBC4 one-on-one Wednesday afternoon, shedding light onto who he is off the field and what motivates him.

Stroud is coming off an impressive redshirt freshman season in which he won the Big Ten offensive player of the year, freshman of the year and quarterback of the year.

Despite going through some early-season struggles, the 20-year-old Stroud kept his life in perspective.

“I’ve learned a lot through my life and a lot that I’ve been through has to do with perseverance,” Stroud said. “This is not the hardest thing I’ve been through you know what I’m saying? It’s a sport. It’s a game.”

The hardest thing Stroud went through is not something he shares often. In a story with Eleven Warriors in February 2020, Stroud said his father went to prison when he was still in middle school.

“The age group of middle school to high school was so pivotal for my life to learn. I flipped a switch to a different kind of lifestyle. I definitely remember those times,” Stroud said. “I didn’t really have my father in my life, but I had great coaches and I had great father figures. I did have my father in my life, but he wasn’t really there with me.”

That experience is his motivation and was foremost on his mind when asked what he hopes to accomplish through football.

“What I want to gain out of the sport of football is not just the money and the accolades. It’s really to inspire people, inspire kids,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things I feel I can teach kids and inspire them to learn.”

But perspective doesn’t lessen how Stroud approaches the game.

“It’s the feeling of wanting to be great, want to be one of the best to ever play the game,” Stroud said. “I always thought I can set myself up, set my family up to live a better life, because at the end of the day, that’s really what we do it for … that was what made me grind so hard.”

He worked hard as a true freshman in 2020 and continued to do so in the offseason, competing with Kyle McCord and Jake Miller III for the starting spot after Justin Fields left for the NFL. The grind paid off when he was named the starter on Aug. 21.

But calls for him to be benched by impatient fanbase began when he completed 13 passes against Minnesota despite that game being his first as the starter. The criticism grew after Ohio State’s loss to Oregon, even though he played well, and intensified following the Tulsa game in which he threw an interception and completed just 15 passes.

Through it all, Stroud remained confident in himself.

He took the next week off against Akron to deal with a shoulder injury and returned as a Heisman-caliber QB, throwing 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions while boasting a rating above 200 and a 78% completion rate three weeks in a row from Oct. 2 to Oct. 23.

“It’s a game. I know it means so much to people and it means so much to me cause this is my livelihood, but at the end of the day, it’s a game,” he said. “I encourage a lot of people to separate the game from real life. People don’t often come to us as human beings cause we didn’t complete a pass. To me, it’s crazy to see people act like that but I get it and I feel like as a person I’m learning to deal with those type of people and pray for them.”

Faith has been a constant in Stroud’s life. It’s not a façade. He begins every postgame news conference by saying he wouldn’t be where he is today without God. That is part of who he is and who he’ll continue to be next year when he leads the Buckeyes offense for a second-straight season. And fans will embrace what they once chastised.