How Snoop Dogg's youth football league played an 'instrumental' role for Texans' C.J. Stroud

IT WAS THE summer of 2014, and Priest Brooks was in need of a quarterback.

Brooks spent his time in the 1990s and early 2000s as a rapper and producer with Death Row Records, but now he was coaching the Pomona Steelers in the Snoop Youth Football League.

Enter 12-year-old C.J. Stroud.

Brooks knew it was “hard to find a good quarterback at that age,” so he “couldn’t be picky.” He had heard glowing reviews about Stroud, who lived 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

When he received word Stroud had left his original youth league in search of more competition, he made the call. Brooks invited Stroud and his family to an unofficial practice to see if it would be a fit, but there was a slight hiccup.

Stroud’s mother, Kimberly, was skeptical about a league run by rap icon Snoop Dogg. But any hesitation didn’t last long.

“When we went to the actual practices and saw how everybody was so professional and great people,” Kimberly Stroud told ESPN. So don’t judge a book by its cover.

Stroud dazzled with precise passes and commanded the offense as “the kids locked onto him,” according to Brooks, and his play earned him a spot on the team for the league based in Los Angeles.

Stroud played for two seasons in the league, but the games aren’t what he remembers. The league, which was created in 2005 for kids between the ages of 5-13, planted seeds that helped him develop and learn the benefit of building relationships with teammates and coaches. The Houston Texans quarterback learned about communication, collaboration and reliability.

“Kids in other communities didn’t have football that met the prices that their mothers could afford,” Snoop said. “At the same time opening up to other kids as well. But the initial thought was to help out the urban inner-city and give them opportunities to play.”

Beyond his pinpoint accuracy, Stroud’s ability to unify teammates regardless of their background, was something he learned in Snoop’s league. All of those tools helped the Texans in their quest to win the AFC South and make it to the second round of the playoffs during Stroud’s rookie season.

“I was so competitive and wanted to win so I was like ‘I have to find a way to be a leader and relate to these guys.’ That was my first step,” Stroud told ESPN. “I started hanging out with guys off the field, my mom would have kids come over and spend the night. She would allow me to go over to their houses.

“It was good for me to learn, this is how you build a brotherhood. I wasn’t even thinking about that back then. But now that I’m older, that’s what that was.”

SNOOP AND STROUD now have a mentor-mentee relationship. But Snoop leans on the quarterback just as much to gain wisdom that he can relay to his athletes.

“It’s special because [Stroud] is exactly what we breed kids to be,” Snoop told ESPN. “Good students, good athletes, respecting their elders, their parents and being a great listener. C.J. was a great listener. That’s why he’s translating on that football field into a great leader.

“I like to get information from him because he’s the future. … So to be able to tap in with the youth and stay active. That’s a gift, and I love the fact that my football league has created that.”

The league has around 14-15 teams with logos resembling NFL teams. Their season starts in September as they host games at local schools in the area. There are seven games before the playoffs begin with the two finalists meeting in the “Snooper Bowl.”

Snoop oversees everything, but he delegates responsibility to an executive board and staff that has a league president and commissioner. His main goal is to provide an outlet for “people that look like me.”

It was Stroud’s first time playing on a team with kids from Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. He said it taught him how to “gain trust and learn what works for what guys” to get the best out of them.

What accelerated the process was Brooks, also known as “Coach Fly,” a nickname that pays homage to his Death Row Records days with Snoop during their musical prime in the 1990s where he went by “Soopafly.” The relationship between Coach Fly and Stroud became vital in the quarterback’s teenage years.

On the field, the coach empowered Stroud to lead the offense, which helped Stroud grow into his role as a leader.

“Coach Fly was the only coach in the area that believed C.J. could run a full passing offense and read defenses,” assistant coach Mike Dedmen said.

Off the field, Brooks “stepped up,” according to Stroud, during a trying time for the Stroud family. Stroud’s father, Coleridge, had been sentenced to 38 years to life in prison related to 2015 charges of kidnapping, carjacking and robbery. He will be eligible for parole in 2040. Stroud calls Brooks “a father figure” in his life.

“Coach Fly is such an amazing person,” Kimberly Stroud said. “He was so instrumental for C.J. during the harder years of his adolescence — when dad wasn’t there anymore, when mom was working long days.”

Brooks waived the league fees and made sure Stroud had uniforms. Stroud also built a bond with Brooks’ son, DonJ’rael. Sleepovers at the Brooks’ household invited a sense of extended family.

“It’s something that I was just supposed to do,” Brooks said. “To see the sadness on his face and what he was going through all of a sudden, it was important to make sure he was looked after. I tell all my kids ‘I instantly love all y’all.’ I would instantly die for all of them.”

COACH FLY’S HOUSE is a place where Stroud and up to 10 teammates would meet up. It’s all a part of the foundation that helped make Stroud who he is today as a leader for the Texans.

The times they played football and raced up and down the streets, when Brooks and the other coaches occasionally took the kids to one of their favorite pizza parlors or Dave & Busters to hang out, it was all a part of the bonding that would be instrumental for Stroud.

During his rookie year, his teammates were always welcome to visit his home. Tight end Dalton Schultz swung by to watch movies. Stroud’s personal chef cooked for receivers like Tank Dell and John Metchie III. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Stroud even went to Halloween events together.

“Being who I am and growing up in Southern California, you get to dabble in a lot of different cultures,” Stroud told ESPN. “I get to understand people for whatever they really are. I’m able to kind of relate to people really well. God has blessed me with that skill.”

One way Stroud relates to his teammates is through friendly trash talk. At Brooks’ house the kids spent hours firing jokes on his front porch. He said “that was their thing.”

“It got to me sometimes,” Brooks said while laughing. “I had to get on them real good to back him up off me.”

Years laters, Stroud still pokes fun with teammates. This past season, offensive tackle George Fant, who played power forward at Western Kentucky from 2011 to 2015, was debating Stroud on who was the better basketball player in the locker room.

During the friendly jawing, Stroud showed his teammates a comedic viral video of former NFL defensive tackle Anthony “Spice” Adams shooting a basketball and missing every shot, claiming that would be Fant.

“His ability to connect with many different people from all walks of life definitely helps him to win a locker room,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It just makes it easier for our team to progress and move forward much quicker because of his leadership ability.”

By age 12, Stroud knew how to lead film sessions. If wide receivers ran the wrong routes, he would physically walk through the route to explain how he wanted it. He’s done those same things now with All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs and Nico Collins when Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik installed a new play involving motioning from the duo during a May OTA session.

Stroud made it a point to talk to everyone in his younger years — whether they played a lot or not — which connected the team.

“He would always make an effort to come to our offensive line and speak with us,” said Dominic Perez, his former center in the Snoop Dogg league. “We weren’t protecting him on pass plays just because he happened to be the quarterback. We wanted to protect him because he was C.J.”

Stroud’s current-day teammates feel connected on both sides of the ball.

“C.J. is a great guy, man. He is easy to work with,” defensive end Will Anderson said. “Great friend, great brother, great teammate and all the things you ask for in a guy like that.”

The Pomona Steelers no longer exist, but Stroud remains connected to a few former teammates in a group chat where they exchange prayers and positive messages, and Brooks was in attendance at the 2023 NFL draft when the Texans made Stroud the No. 2 pick.

Before joining Snoop’s league, Kimberly Stroud knew her son was a leader, but she believes the league enhanced that skill because he learned how to communicate with kids from different backgrounds and upbringings.

What started as skepticism for her transformed into a long-lasting family.

“The Snoop Dogg league was super instrumental in C.J. ‘s journey,” Kimberly Stroud said. “It was a village that raised C.J. Stroud, and it wasn’t just his mother. It was mainly God, but He put people on our path to help C.J. along his journey. The Snoop Dogg league was one of those.”

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