Things didn’t look good for the Spiders. Senior John Laub had suffered a broken ankle in a game at University of New Hampshire, and to make matters worse, University of Richmond lost the game. The fourth-ranked James Madison University Dukes were scheduled to visit E. Claiborne Robins Stadium the following week.
The feeling of apprehension that paralyzed Richmond quickly subsided when Michael Strauss, the sophomore quarterback transfer from University of Virginia, took the field.
In defeating JMU, Strauss had 271 yards of offense and four touchdowns. He remained undefeated as a starter the rest of the 2012 season and led Richmond to a share of the Colonial Athletic Association Conference championship.
But that was last year. Now Strauss is a junior and the established starting quarterback.
When Strauss began playing football in fifth grade, he tried to model his game after Brett Favre, one of the great NFL quarterbacks. “I played several different positions, including defensive line and linebacker,” Strauss said, “but I always wanted to play quarterback.”
In high school, several schools recruited Strauss, including The University of Mississippi (where Eli Manning went to school) and The University of Tennessee (where Peyton Manning went to school). Strauss even had an offer from The University of Alabama, a school with a history of great quarterbacks and national championship dynasties. Strauss eventually decided on Virginia.
“I felt like I would be getting the best of both worlds at UVa.,” Strauss said. “Good academics and good football.”
When Strauss made up his mind to transfer, it was his defensive coordinator Jim Reid, former head football coach at Richmond, who first encouraged him to look at Richmond, where coach Danny Rocco had just taken over.
“I wanted to leave UVa. because I wasn’t playing,” Strauss said. “I visited Richmond and I really liked it. I liked the coaches and the family feel. I could definitely see myself playing here.”
When Strauss arrived at Richmond, he began to realize how much smaller Richmond was than UVa. Strauss recognized his classmates outside of the classroom, something that rarely happened at Virginia.
“As far as football, it was pretty much the same,” Strauss said. “The programs were pretty much run the same and still required the same amount of hours.”
When camp started, it became clear that Strauss and Laub would be competing for the starting quarterback job.
“The people on the team wanted the best player to play, so I didn’t really have any issues with that, coming in,” Strauss said. “The guys didn’t favor me or him; it was like whoever wins the job wins the job. I definitely knew that he had competed, and I didn’t come here knowing that for sure I was going to start.”
Strauss had become close friends with his roommate, then senior fullback Kendall Gaskins, but he began to develop relationships with others in the program, such as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter, who played quarterback at Clemson University in the mid-’90s.
“The fact that I have played the position before is one thing that really helps,” Streeter said. “I’ve gone through the exact same things that he’s going through. He understands that I’ve been there, and I know what he’s seeing and how he’s feeling, so that’s definitely important.”
Strauss played briefly in the beginning of the season, but when Laub suffered a season-ending ankle injury, the game against JMU presented Strauss with his first real opportunity.
“Ever since Michael has been at Richmond, he has worked equally as hard as John has,” Streeter said. “When he came in at the end of the season when John got hurt, he was able to be successful because of his work habits and because he prepared himself for that situation. It’s hard as a back-up quarterback because you don’t know when you’re going to go in to the game, but you have to be able to treat it like you’re the starter. Michael did a great job of doing that last year.”
Although Laub was hurt, he still maintained a strong presence on the sidelines. “John was captain, and I had to kind of figure out when to talk and when to let John talk,” Strauss said.
This season, though, a few things are different.
“When I get out there on the field, you can ask anybody, it’s a lot of enthusiasm—maybe too much,” Strauss said. “I get real fired up. I hope the guys feed off of it, and I think they do. I think that’s where I show the most leadership is out there on the field.”
Senior wide receiver Stephen Barnette met Strauss during the summer when Strauss first visited Richmond. “We’ve been friends since, but my first impression of Mike was that he was a little full of himself,” Barnette said. “It was definitely the wrong first impression.”
Senior wide receiver Ben Edwards said he had not known what to think when he met Strauss. “He grew on me and the more I got to know him, I couldn’t help but love the guy,” Edwards said. This summer, Strauss, Barnette and other wide receivers spent extra time working together, sometimes three times a week.
“He’s dramatic, and sometimes he gets overly amped up,” Barnette said. “He has a passion for the game and no one can fault him for it. There’s only one Mike Strauss.”
His coaches and wide receivers aren’t the only ones Strauss has developed a good relationship with. A spectator might not be able to spot Strauss behind his monstrous offensive line, most of whom are more than 6 feet 3 inches tall, but despite their obvious physical differences, they share one thing—understanding.
“The job of the quarterback and the job of the offensive line is totally different, 100 percent different,” Streeter said, “so he has to be able to always provide encouragement, leadership and communication for the offensive line. I think he does a really good job of that.”
“We’re all in it for the same reasons,” Strauss said. “I love those guys. Those guys protect me, and once they protect me I have to make a play, so it goes back and forth. It starts with them, but then I have to do my job. They understand they’re just as important as I am, and it’s equal. So it’s not hard to get along with those guys. We have a really good group of guys.”
As the Spider football team has grown closer, their expectations for themselves and the season have changed.
“This year, our mindset is completely different,” Strauss said. “Last year, the team was coming off of a losing season, and they wanted to get back to a winning tradition. Now, that’s not enough; we expect to win against every opponent.”
As much as Strauss enjoys playing home games at Robins Stadium, he does enjoy being on the road. “Robins Stadium is beautiful, and I’m definitely comfortable there,” Strauss said, “but I love to play on the road. It gives me a chance to quiet the crowd.”
Strauss said he believed his outlook to be positive, especially since Richmond will be given several chances to quiet the crowds in the remainder of the season.
“The best thing about having Strauss as our quarterback is that he will do anything to win,” Edwards said. “He shows this through his work ethic and preparation, week in and week out. He’s extremely passionate and competitive, and a team needs that out of their quarterback.”
Contact reporter Lauren Shute at firstname.lastname@example.org