As last month's NFL draft approached, Marcus Stroud was restless,
and when he's restless, he can turn ornery. On lazy summer
afternoons as a boy in Barney, Ga., Marcus would launch eggs off
the roof of his house so they'd splatter on passersby below, or
torture neighborhood cats by pinching them with clothespins and
stuffing them into brown paper bags. As the Georgia defensive
tackle waited to see if, as projected, he'd be a mid-first-round
pick, he sat in his Atlanta apartment for 10 or 12 hours a day,
hacking ancient warriors apart with his samurai swordsmen in the
video game Onimusha Warlords.
Like those samurai, the 6'6", 300-pound Stroud can strike fear
into opponents with his mere presence. He was a dominant lineman
as a senior at Brooks County High School in Quitman, Ga., in
1996, when SI visited him for a cover story on national signing
day. Stroud had given an oral commitment to Florida two months
earlier, only to opt for Georgia on the eve of signing day. The
reversal came after a night during which Stroud sat in the
darkened kitchen of his family's house second-guessing his
choice. "I remember the next morning well," he says. "I was
driving to school, and things became clear."
Stroud was swayed largely by the prospect of playing as a
freshman, but he redshirted his first season in Athens and spent
his second coming off the bench. Criticized for his work ethic,
Stroud earned a reputation for taking plays off. Pushed by his
coaches--who at one point urged him to move to the offensive
line--and by his parents, Thelma and Kenneth, Stroud shaped up.
When he got low grades as a freshman, it was Thelma who told him,
"Get it together." Marcus hit the books, and in May 2000 he
graduated with a B.A. in sports business. After his sophomore
season he started spending time in the weight room and doing
extra drills in practice. He became an All-SEC player, a
powerful, quick pass rusher who led the Bulldogs with 24
quarterback hurries in 2000. "People don't realize how hard I
work now," he says. "I want to be the best."
Privately, Stroud hoped that Jacksonville, a two-hour drive from
Barney, would take him with the 13th pick. "Everything happens
for a reason," he said two days before the draft, reflecting on
his college career. "Things were tough, but they turned out well.
I fit in at Georgia and had a great time. I'll be happy wherever
I end up."
When Stroud's cell phone rang during the first round on draft
day, the Jaguars were calling. The restless wait was over.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER
"Things were tough, but they turned out well," said the Jaguars'
draftee of his college career.