Four years ago, Isaiah Strayhorn didn’t fathom that he’d be in the northwest corner of Missouri.
He didn’t know that he’d end up playing running back for one of the winningest programs at the Division II level.
Now, amid the weekend of the 2020 NFL Draft, the former Bearcat hopes to have a childhood dream of playing in the NFL come true.
“Honestly, I’ll probably cry,” Strayhorn said, should he end up on an NFL roster. “Even if it’s just a free-agent deal — or anything — any opportunity to play on a 53-man roster after everything I’ve been through in my journey would be a blessing. I can’t even describe the amount of emotions I’d probably feel.”
Strayhorn’s path started in the fourth grade, he said. It’s one that eventually led to him playing at Eastlake High School in his hometown of Chula Vista, California. From there, he made the trip across town to play for Southwestern Community College.
He transferred to Northwest in the wake of a transfer for another running back, Josh Caldwell. Despite sharing the spotlight with someone who played during the 2019 NFL Preseason, Strayhorn rushed for a team-high 874 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Those numbers included a career-high 171 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries in Northwest’s 42-17 win over Grand Valley State Nov. 17, 2018.
For his senior year, the backfield appeared to be his — until it wasn’t.
Former Kent State running back Justin Rankin, who is also hoping to end up on an NFL roster, transferred to the program and became the featured back. During his senior campaign, despite sharing the backfield for the second time in as many years, Strayhorn mustered 639 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns.
“I just think those are two testimonies of someone that’s not gonna be selfish, someone that’s gonna remember the ultimate goal of the team,” Strayhorn said. “I think those two situations just show my selflessness and show that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team out in any way that I can.”
“It’s exciting,” Strayhorn said about going through the predraft process with Rankin and tight end Marqus Andrews. “I’m just as excited for them as I am myself. I’ve put in a lot of work with them in my time at Northwest and it’s great to see that they had great seasons and that the hard work is paid off.”
His character is something that, of course, won’t show up in a box score. It won’t show up in a 40-yard-dash time. But he was hoping to have a pro day in an attempt to appeal to organizations with his character, he said. He said there would’ve been a lot of appeal to the type of teammate that he is, along with the player he is.
With the cancellation of most pro days due to the novel COVID-19 pandemic, Strayhorn never got the chance.
“It was a bummer finding out we weren’t gonna have pro days,” Strayhorn said. “That definitely sucked, for sure. I was gonna take matters into my own hands, regardless, into my own pro day. … I’ve just been training and making sure that I’m ready to go when my time is ready.”
Just as much as he didn’t know he’d end up at Northwest, Strayhorn doesn’t know if his name will get called by the end of the draft. Along with Rankin and Andrews, he’s hoping that he’s one of the 256 players who has that opportunity to see themselves on television.
“Man, it’s above me at this point,” Strayhorn said. “My agent believes in me, I believe in myself, and I just gotta put my faith in God. I don’t need 32 teams to contact me, I just need that one. I’m hoping that I can get that one and make the most of it.”
“I always was confident in myself and my faith that I could get here,” Strayhorn said. “Everything I’ve manifested since the fourth grade is coming to fruition right now. So, I’ve believed for a long time that I should be in this position and that I can be in this position. Now I just gotta see how the cards play out.”