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Gazzolo Column: Stroud has grown into leader for Cowboys

Last Modified: Monday, August 19, 2013 10:19 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Three years ago, Cody Stroud looked a little lost as he stood in the crowd of McNeese State football players on media day.

Back then during the annual dog and pony show, he was part of the future.

Sunday he was there as the hope of the present, and Stroud looked the part.

He was confident, comfortable, playful, running from photo shoot to interview, enjoying the moment. He had become everything that was promised on that day what seems so long ago.

“Yes, it is a lot different now,” said Stroud, who enters this fall fully entrenched as the starting quarterback of McNeese.

For the senior who has started the last two years, this is the time he has been waiting for.

“I’m ready, I think we are ready,” he said.

No longer looking over his shoulder, Stroud is comfortable in his surroundings.

“I have learned a lot over the years,” said Stroud. “I have learned the things it takes to win. You know how to win when you come here, but you have to learn what it takes to win.

“What it takes is hard work, dedication. This group of players has that.”

They will need it. McNeese has found itself in the middle of the pack when it comes to the Southland Conference over Stroud’s years. That means they have a winning record but no playoffs.

For Stroud, that won’t be good enough this season.

“I feel we should have won all but one game last year,” said Stroud. “We killed ourselves in the other games.”

Mistakes down the stretch cost the Cowboys three more victories. Stroud believes that was a tough learning curve.

“We have to make those mistakes work for us now,” he said.

That means Stroud must become the leader he expects to be. So far he is showing it to his teammates.

Diontae Spencer, a senior wide receiver who has been with Stroud over the years, has noticed a difference.

“His leadership is different, he is more vocal,” said Spencer. “He has been more comfortable in the huddle, more commanding.”

It is what head coach Matt Viator has been looking for too.

“I think he looks comfortable, but I don’t want him to get too comfortable,” said Viator. “We want him to keep working, to continue to make strides like he has.”

Stroud knows the drill. He has seen others come and go chasing after his job, but now he believes it is all his.

“We have some talented players behind me and that is good,” he said. “I like the competition, but I think this is my job to lose.”

And he doesn’t plan on losing it.

“I don’t feel like I have to look over my shoulder or worry about getting yanked after one mistake,” Stroud added. “That is a good feeling knowing the offense, knowing what is expected.

“I feel like this is my team now.”

It is what McNeese fans have been waiting for.

“I feel we will only go as far as I can help take us,” Stroud said.

That might be saying a lot for this team which is picked to finish fourth in the conference.

Then again, Sunday we also saw just how far Cody Stroud has come.

So maybe it is his time to shine. He sure feels like he has earned the opportunity.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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