Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud chooses $200,000 Mercedes over $150,000 Bentley in NIL deal to promote car dealership

Steve Doerschuk
The Repository

JACKSON TWP., Ohio  — C.J. Stroud dreamed a little.

The people at the Sarchione Auto Gallery, a luxury-vehicle dealership in Belden Village, Ohio, handed the Ohio State quarterback the keys to a $150,000 Rolls Royce. He climbed in and fired it up, right there in the showroom. It gave off a little smoke stream and purred.

He wasn't dreaming, though, when he drove off in a $200,000 Mercedes G Wagon. It was his to keep through Ohio State's 2022 season, as part of an endorsement agreement tied to the name, image and likeness privileges bestowed on college athletes.  

The Merdeces was a "game-day decision." Initially Stroud was supposed to drive a $150,000 Bentley Bentayga back to Columbus.

Apparently some negotiating took place. When you are a leading candidate to win the 2022 Hesiman Trophy as the face man of an Ohio State team seen as a national championship threat, you only have to twist an arm so hard.

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Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) passes during a spring football practice at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center in Columbus on March 22, 2022.

“When you talk to people, whether it’s in the community or at the game, our brand awareness is what we're building,” said Ryan Burton, the general manager of Sarchione Auto Gallery, “so when you have the best-of-the-best promoting your brand, it only does good things.”

After spending part of the afternoon signing some things and saying some hellos, Stroud broke for an interview with The Canton Repository.

He came off as a charming fellow who understands that he owes Sarchione something, in exchange for getting something.

Stroud was invisible as an Ohio State freshman in 2020, when Justin Fields threw every pass for a 7-1 Ohio State team in a season assaulted by COVID-19.

He spent those months adjusting to uprooting from the Los Angeles area to a strange and different land. He had never been to Ohio before taking an official recruiting visit.

"I wanted to challenge myself with whatever might be the hardest challenge," he said. "I thought coming to Ohio State would be hard for me. I think it has been hard.

"It's probably been the best decision of my life, coming to Ohio State, becoming a young man, living on my own. Of course I miss family and stuff like that. But I've learned so much. I'll continue to learn more this year."

In 2021, Ohio State named Stroud starting QB over Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord. There were questions about whether he was ready when the Buckeyes lost Game 2, to Oregon.

"I came away from that believing I have God-given talent," Stroud said. "I feel God wouldn't have placed me at Ohio State if I wasn't ready. My teammates have a lot of trust in me. So did my coaches.

"I feel I played well in that game ... of course, not well enough to get the win. But I gave my heart out, and that's all you can ask for."

He won his next eight starts, capped by a monster game against Michigan State (32-of-35, 432 yards, six TDs, no interceptions). After a deflating loss at Michigan, he had a big bowl game against Utah (573 yards, six TDs).

"I felt like a veteran last year, honestly," he said. "I've been playing football a long time. I realize I'm not half as experienced as certain people in our building, but I'm willing to learn everything they can teach me.

"I don't feel like last year I was, like ... so confident in myself. But I felt I had enough to have a decent season. This year I'm coming in more confident."

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The season opens on Sept. 3 against Notre Dame.

"Between now and (summer practice), I'm going to go somewhere and work out," Stroud said. "I had a little vacation time. I went to the Virgin Islands. That was my first vacation I've ever been on. It was an amazing time.

"I don't really believe in vacation. Even on vacation, I try to get in some kind of workout in or watch film."

Stroud placed fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting behind Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. The latter two are gone to the NFL. In some minds, a dream national championship game for the upcoming college season would pit Young against Stroud.

"It's very early," Stroud said. "We're still in summer workouts. I think I would be jumping the gun. Something like that is definitely what you're working for. But our first focus is that first game. Right now I feel like I'd like to win 'em all.  Right now ... win every day."

How good can the 2022 Buckeyes be by opening day?

"I don't want to tell the world, so I might keep this to myself," Stroud said. "As long as we handle our business and put in the work, whatever God has planned for us will happen."

Stroud played high school ball in California, for Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. He has come a long way already.

Stroud isn't the first famous player linked to fancy wheels. Before he joined the Browns in 2019, Odell Beckham Jr. owned a Rolls Royce Phantom valued at more than $400,000. During his Steelers days, Antonio Brown drove a $315,000 Rolls Royce Wraith.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's ascent as a marketing star includes an endorsement deal with Lordstown Motors. He is the official spokesman for the Endurance Truck. He also acknowledges owning a Porsche Taycan Supercar and an Acura NSX Supercar.

Stroud is younger than any of them, and he was about to drive a $200,000 car off a Stark County lot, on his way back to Columbus. 

Was he nervous. 

"I've been driving since I was 9," Stroud said. "I come from California, where you learn to drive in traffic with a lot of people who drive it off the road. So I'm not worried about it.

Reach Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com; On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP