Johnathan Strayhorn: Family Fortitude
Oct. 26, 2011
By Nick McWherter, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Many of the current players on the Spartan roster were recruited heavily by the Michigan State coaching staff.
Senior defensive tackle Johnathan Strayhorn landed in Green and White in an unconventional way.
"It was a little of a rough road," Strayhorn said. "I had a scholarship somewhere else to play, some things happened and the scholarship didn't go through. I had a buddy that went here, he talked to the coaches here and they said I could come here and walk-on. So I did that, and ever since then, my heart lies here now."
Strayhorn said that it was tough because the coaching staff did not know much about him and did not recruit him out of Oak Park High School in Detroit.
Being a walk-on, Strayhorn was in a situation where everything had to be earned and he had to prove himself to the coaching staff and his teammates.
After redshirting his freshman season, Strayhorn saw most of his time at defensive end but has since switched to his current position, defensive tackle. Strayhorn stressed a team-first mentality in regard to the change of positions.
"It's been a tough experience - but I love football, so I will play wherever they need me to play," Strayhorn said. "Whatever is best for the team that is how I feel now. If they need me to play d-tackle, I'll play d-tackle; if they need me to play d-end, I'll play d-end."
Through tough times in football and in life, Strayhorn has a strong support system in his family that he can rely on. Strayhorn referred to his family back in Detroit as his "backbone."
"I wanted to quit a couple of times," Strayhorn said. "They talked to me and said `don't quit, keep pushing, you love football, keep doing it.' Just being there for me, to talk to, to lean on, to come see me play, whatever I need, they are always there for me."
Every season at the beginning of camp each senior is given an opportunity to speak to the team about any topic that they desire. Strayhorn chose to speak about the importance of family.
"It means a lot," Strayhorn said. "Being a Spartan here, I look at my teammates, all of them came and left as a family. I expanded my family, I'm a very family oriented person, and I believe that family comes first in whatever I do."
Strayhorn's production has increased each and every season. As a junior in 2010, he ranked second on the team with 3.5 sacks - including two in the win at Northwestern - and he finished the year with a career-high 27 tackles. He was rewarded with a scholarship for his hard work.
"As I recall, it was Coach D who told me first," said Strayhorn, who currently has the second-most career sacks (five) of any Spartan on the team. "I was excited, but at the same time I knew they expected more of me. I just had to work harder and harder to prove that I've earned my scholarship. Once I told my parents, they were very excited to know that I got a scholarship."
Earning a scholarship was a grind for Strayhorn, and his family played a meaningful role in his perseverance. Strayhorn's mother, Grace, and his father, Gregory, both had an influence on him playing football while he was younger, but it came from completely different capacities.
"My dad, he got me out on the field," Strayhorn said. "My mom babied me, and babied my injuries whenever I needed her to, so it kept me on the field.
"My dad, one thing he said to me every time I played a game was `make sure you walk off the field the same way you walk on.' Basically meaning have fun out there, but always keep your head on a swivel and always protect yourself and just do your best."
Although individually he earned a scholarship and was happy for the excitement of his family back home, Strayhorn made sure to point out that last season meant much more for his other family, his Spartan teammates.
"Last season, I didn't think about it as an individual success," Strayhorn said. "As a team we came together; it started in camp, we all came together. I earned my scholarship last year - it was icing on the cake to have a Big Ten title with it.
"At Penn State, my former teammate Colin Neely, he is from that area, so to see how happy he was to be able to win the Big Ten title at Penn State was very emotional for him, and very emotional for me."
Strayhorn has many goals left for his senior season. The majority of them revolve around family - both the one back home, and the one in East Lansing.
"I want to leave as a champion, a back-to-back champion," said Strayhorn. "I want to be able to play in an upper-tier bowl game and win our bowl game; we haven't won one since we have been here. Just keeping the relationships going, friendships and family, and building on them. Helping the freshmen out when they need help. Just having fun basically, I just want to leave this season having fun."
Before playing in his last game in Spartan Stadium, Strayhorn wants to leave a lasting memory for everybody.
"Senior day, I just want to see the look on my parents' face," said Strayhorn. "I want them to be happy. If I have a big senior day or a big season, I just want to make them happy."
GETTING TO KNOW Johnathan Strayhorn
Favorite video game as a kid: Super Mario Kart or James Bond: GoldenEye
Collections he owns: "Shoes. I collect Jordan's, Nike's, and I have probably 20 pairs, 15 that I haven't worn yet."
Favorite cartoon: Looney Tunes; favorite character is Tasmanian Devil
Something Spartan fans don't know: "I have a yorkie puppy. His name is Armani."
Role model: My parents
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 22, 2011, edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.