LOS ANGELES (WCMH) — The directions, by Southern California standards, are actually quite simple. From Rancho Cucamonga, you simply hop on Highway 210 and drive about 45 minutes west. That’s how you get from Rancho Cucamonga to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s path to Pasadena ran through Columbus, Ohio.

“I never would’ve thought I’d come home and play, which is an awesome feeling . . . in front of some fans out here who never got to come see me at Ohio (State),” Stroud said this week.

Stroud’s monstrous redshirt freshman season at Ohio State led him to the national spotlight as a Heisman Trophy finalist. But it also led him back home, where Stroud will lead his Buckeyes against Utah in the game he grew up watching.

Stroud starred as a junior and senior at Rancho Cucamonga High School, leading his team to the state playoffs and earning national recognition at the Elite 11 quarterback camp. That’s when Ohio State really took notice.

Stroud’s high school head coach, Mark Verti, says he’s adopted a new Saturday schedule this season — watching a heavy dose of Buckeye football.

“I’ve had a lot of players go to college and play pro but just to have a QB guy at a top school, playing at Ohio State every Saturday, I’m changing my schedule around making sure I can see his plays, his clips, see how he’s doing,” Verti says. “I think he’s going to end up being probably the face of the athletic programs here.”

Stroud chose OSU over offers from most West Coast schools because of the intense focus on football back east and Stroud’s interest in being developed by OSU head coach Ryan Day, a former NFL assistant. Verti says Stroud has been invested for many years in becoming an elite quarterback and changing his family’s lives.

“He knows he can use his talent to better his family, and his mom, and better himself and help those really close around him,” Verti says.

Stroud says despite the excitement for his homecoming, he’s aiming to stay calm and focus on lifting Ohio State’s offense, which will operate against Utah without their top two receivers and starting left tackle.

“I’m not gonna overthink it or do too much,” Stroud says. “I’m just gonna have fun with it, still go through my preparation like I always do and hopefully go out there and play well. I’m not gonna blow it out of proportion by any means . . . I just want to play well.”