FEBRUARY 19, 1996
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 red-shirted 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.