The University of Richmond was good to quarterback Michael Strauss, who thrived on and off the football field after transferring from the University of Virginia in 2011.
The native of Key Biscayne, Fla., excelled in the classroom, garnering Colonial Athletic Association All-Academic honors in 2012 and 2013, and graduated with a degree from the reputable E. Claiborne Robins School of Business.
Strauss displayed command on the field, where he finished his career at Richmond in 2014 with 7,853 yards passing and 57 touchdowns against 20 interceptions in 32 games.
The move from the Atlantic Coast Conference also re-ignited a passion, which turned Strauss into an NFL prospect.
“When I went to Richmond, I found my love of the game again,” Strauss said during a telephone interview. “I got back on the field and it made me realize why I love the game and why I like to play the game.”
But it wasn’t always an easy road for the star quarterback after he left high school in 2010.
Strauss said he drew interest from Florida State, Miami, Florida Atlantic and Florida International before he chose Virginia. He arrived in Charlottesville as a three-star recruit, but an inability to crack the starting lineup quickly wore on him.
Strauss admitted he had moments of doubt while serving as a backup quarterback, a strecth that proved frustrating based on never seeing the playing field.
“I kind of questioned my ability,” Strauss said, “You start questioning yourself.”
He relied on family support during that period of skepticism and stayed in touch with his former high school football coach at Gulliver Prep, Earl Sims.
Sims, who played linebacker at Virginia from 1997-2001, was more than happy to offer encouragment.
“I was telling him he knows who he is and I know who is,” Sims said during a telephone interview. “One thing I know he ain’t is a quitter. I said, ‘You got a lot of pride and it seems like it’s not working your way. But every ounce of work you put in, it’s toward something.’”
Strauss’ decision to relocate roughly an hour from Charlottesville offered vindication of his talent.
And he announced his presence during a redshirt sophomore season against James Madison University, then the No. 2 team in Division I-AA, on Oct. 20, 2012.
Subbing for an injured John Laub, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle the week before, Strauss completed 27-of-41 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns in an upset 35-29 win over the Dukes.
Strauss points to that specific game as the moment he realized he arrived.
“I always knew I could play, but after sitting out for two years, you kind of have to reprove it to yourself and I think I did right there,” Strauss said. “At that point, I knew, OK, I can play with anybody. I can do this.”
Richmond won four straight games with Strauss to close the 2012 season. And Strauss carried the momentum into his junior year to establish Richmond’s single-season records in completions (333), attempts (509), yards passing (3,808) and touchdowns (26).
Strauss said playing in the NFL wasn’t his primary focus when he arrived in Richmond, and he just wanted to be the best player he could be for the Spiders.
But given his career of record-setting numbers despite four missed games his senior season with an ankle injury, the NFL is within grasp.
“I just wanted to have a good college career and if that happened, it happened,” Strauss said. “And as I went on, it started to become a reality, so I kept pursuing it and working harder to get to the goal.”
The 6-3, 211-pound Strauss has the size and arm a majority of NFL teams desire in a signal caller.
More importantly when considering the position he plays, Strauss possesses a high level of confidence, an attribute Richmond head football coach Danny Rocco admired.
“He believes in his talent,” Rocco said during a telephone interview. “He believes he can make a play and I think the kids responded to all that. That’s one of those intangible things that is difficult to replace when you start moving onward with your program.”
A deep mixture of passion and self-assuredness radiates from Strauss, who said he doesn’t like to compare himself to a particular quarterback.
He won’t hesitate, however, to state he believes he can throw with any quarterback prospect from the 2015 class.
“If you’re not confident in your abilities, you’re losing the battle,” Strauss said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m a competitor, ask anybody I’ve played with, I’m a fiery competitor. I like to win. I don’t like to admit anyone is better than me. I’ll do whatever I need to do to win. You have to have confidence.”
Rocco agreed, adding Strauss’ poise goes beyond the box score.
“He’s a real competitor and he’s kind of at his best in those tight situations late in the game, fourth quarter, two-minute situation,” Rocco said. “That’s one of the things that really jumps out at me about what I think makes him special and unique.
Former Richmond offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Brandon Streeter, now the quarterbacks coach at Clemson, played a vital role in mentoring Strauss from 2012-14.
Streeter said during a telephone interview Strauss is “probably the most competitive player” he’s ever coached.
Streeter further points out he appreciated Strauss’ dedication of self-improvement and willingness to accept constructive criticism.
“He is a guy that would compete so hard and work very, very hard when he’s off the field in the film room to get any advantage he possibly could get from the opponent that we were playing,” Streeter said. “He would always ask me questions about what he could do to get better.”
Of course, the confidence didn’t happen overnight.
Strauss’ father, Richard, said during a telephone interview the development of his son’s drive started at a young age based on observations of the family business and the absorbing of information from athletic coaches.
Richard is the founder and CEO of MIA Shoes, a successful Miami-based company specializing in women’s fashion footwear, and his wife, Maria, serves at the fashion director.
Strauss saw firsthand the sacrifices and dedication required to succeed from watching his parents grow the business, and applied those traits to how he approached tasks.
“It’s definitely something you look at and you see that work ethic, they show you how hard they work, you learn a lot,” Strauss said. “It was definitely a big thing watching them growing up.”
The comparison between succeeding in business and on the football field is fitting.
“If you don’t get knocked down or you don’t have any hard bumps in the road, then it seems too easy,” the elder Strauss said. “He’s had to work for everything. Nothing was given to him; nothing ever handed to him on a platter. He had to work for it and he had to earn it.”
Outside of the business-like approach to the game, Strauss’ father said his son’s athletic skills and football smarts were cultivated since Pop Warner football leagues, and grew over the years with good mentoring and training.
“What helped increase his confidence was he took from people what they were teaching him what he was supposed to learn,” the elder Strauss said. “And his grasp and knowledge of the game, that gave him more confidence.”
Strauss’ dedication and work ethic became clear in high school.
His former football coach at Gulliver Prep said it was customary to find Strauss as the first person to arrive for practice and the last to leave, and the workout didn’t end when Strauss’ teammates left the field.
Instead, Sims said Strauss would then spend time training with a personal quarterback coach.
“Preparation breeds confidence and he put so much work in,” Sims said. “People used to call it cockiness, but it was fierce confidence and the reason he was that way is because of the work he put in.”
Despite his college production, a healthy Strauss didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine or a college all-star game.
Strauss’ former college head football coach speculates the four games Strauss missed with an ankle injury in 2014 may have played a role in the oversight even though the quarterback returned to finish the year.
“I was kind of fearful of that when he got hurt,” Rocco said. “I think that – I spent 23 years at the BCS level, one year in the NFL, this is my ninth season as an FCS head coach – the one thing that I recognize with most of these guys, my guys at this level, they don’t quite have that window for margin of error if they don’t have a full season. If they get injured or they miss part of it, that senior year, I think they get overlooked a little bit.”
Richmond’s former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach agreed.
“I really think that it wasn’t a surprise after he got injured that maybe some guys started backing off a little bit,” Streeter said. “But I never hesitated one bit in my thinking that as far as him being a potential NFL prospect just because of what I got to see every day, what I got to coach every day.”
While Strauss didn’t participate in a postseason showcase event, the lack of attention shouldn’t prevent him from having a shot at the next level, according to Eric Galko, director and owner of OptimumScouting.com.
Galko reinforced the physical attributes NFL teams covet at the quarterback position regardless of background, and scouts will have plenty of game film.
“He’s in that 6-2, 210-pound barrier with what you want in a quarterback and certainly his arm strength checks out as well,” Galko said during a telephone interview. “I think as far as small-school quarterbacks, statistically-wise, he started games and made plays in college.”
The casual football fan outside the Colonial Athletic Association may not be familiar with Strauss, but NFL personnel are aware of his presence.
Richmond’s Pro Day on March 17 drew representatives from the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders and Washington.
And a Chiefs area scout apparently took special interest in Strauss’ throws.
“A couple of guys after the Pro Day came up to me and told me he was making marks after every throw I made,” Strauss said. “That’s when I knew the Chiefs were interested, and that was pretty neat.”
With a workout under his belt, Strauss then traveled to Boca Raton to participate in Florida Atlantic’s Pro Day, which was headlined by cornerback D’Joun Smith, on April 2.
The second workout allowed Strauss to perform in front of representatives from 26 NFL organizations, which included the Chiefs among teams previously present at the Richmond workout.
“It was definitely exciting to perform in front of those scouts,” Strauss said. “I’ve never been somebody to get real nervous in front of people like that, so I wasn’t very nervous. It was just more exciting to show these guys what I can do because I know I feel like I belong in the highest stage with all the guys they’re talking about.”
Strauss entered both Pro Day workouts with a goal to impress the NFL teams, and he said the overall feedback he received indicated scouts liked his size and more importantly where he places the football.
The latter area wouldn’t come as a surprise to Richmond’s head football coach.
“The first thing is he can make all the throws,” Rocco said. “He’s one of those guys who make the throw on timing. He can throw to good, tight spots. He’s got the ability to pull the trigger. He’s a gunslinger is what he is. That’s the bottom line.”
Still, Strauss offers more than his obvious physical tools to an NFL team.
He brings high football acumen founded on roots in a West Coast based-offense at Virginia to adapting to a spread-based system at Richmond.
“I think the No. 1 thing that will set me apart with teams is my knowledge of the game,” Strauss said. “I know the game. I just see things. That’s the one thing my coaches have told me in the past, ‘You see things some other guys may not see. You see the whole picture.’”
That intelligence and a proven ability to adjust from different offenses could prove appealing to a prospective employer.
“He’s got a real diverse range of experience,” Rocco said. “It’s one of the things sometimes with these guys that end up transferring and finding themselves in different situations, they have an opportunity to learn and grow. They get involved with a wider range of coaches, philosophies, systems.”
Strauss participated in the Miami Dolphins’ local Pro Day on April 10 and remains in Florida to train for what he hopes will be an opportunity in the NFL.
Where Strauss ultimately fits remains to be seen based on what many draft analysts, including Galko, view as a quarterback class lacking depth.
That won’t hurt Strauss’ chances, however, of signing as a potential undrafted free agent with a team in need of a quarterback.
“I think there’s only going to be about six quarterbacks drafted out of this class,” Galko said. “Being undrafted is not a downside at all.”
From former coaches to loved one, Strauss certainly has his share of supporters as he embarks on the next leg of his playing career.
His former offensive coordinator and position coach at Richmond is especially pulling for Strauss.
“I’m just excited for him just because he worked so hard and he has such a passion for the game,” Streeter said. “Those types of kids I truly believe really need to be rewarded, and I think he deserves that. He worked hard through some adversity, was able to bounce back and show that he can do some things. I’m anxious to see where he lands and how successful he can be because I think the sky is the limit for him.”
Strauss’ father, Richard, said he doesn’t have a preference where his son potentially lands.
The family patriarch said he will be overcome with happiness if his son is in a camp in the coming weeks, and hopes an NFL team sees the talent his son possesses to offer the opportunity.
“I’m just anxious to see what happens,” Richard Strauss said. “People ask me about it, but I downplay it. I know the percentages are very, very low, but I also know my son is very, very good. I’m his biggest fan and so is his mother.”
For his part, Strauss doesn’t have illusions of where he projects at the next level when it comes to the NFL Draft and the signing period of undrafted free agents immediately after the three-day event.
He has a full understanding of what his path could hold and has the right attitude to embrace the upcoming challenges.
“I don’t intend to go somewhere right now and immediately play,” Strauss said. “I don’t think that’s in store for me being I’m not a first-round pick. It’s one of those things where you go in there with the mindset you want to learn and try to improve your game as much as you can, so that a little bit down the line you’ll be ready to go.”
In the meantime, he will enjoy the ride.
“Just getting out there and training with these guys, all the college guys, all the NFL guys I’ve met and have been able to train with and learn from,” Strauss said. “To see how they work is exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”