Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Center of attention: Stromberg steady in role up front
Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg (51) gestures to the crowd following a touchdown during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — A big smile came across Arkansas left tackle Luke Jones’ face on Nov. 15 when a reporter asked him about the impact and play of center Ricky Stromberg.
It was the kind of grin that screamed, “I know something you don’t, and I’ll never tell.”
Right tackle Dalton Wagner, sitting to Jones’ left in the Zoom window, made a similar facial expression.
“Ricky’s a character, you know,” Jones said through the smile. “He’s one of our really good friends and we love him. He’s a great person on the field as well as off the field. He’s an amazing football player. We’re lucky to have him as our center this year.”
Jones, a former Pulaski Academy standout who is in his first season as a starter for the Razorbacks after transferring from Notre Dame, was then asked to explain what he meant by the “character” comment.
“He’s just funny,” Jones said. “He’s locked in and serious when he needs to be, but when we’re hanging out and it’s not practice times, he’s probably one of the funniest guys I know in the locker room.”
Stromberg’s parents, Scott and Diane, know better than anyone the person who Jones described. They saw their fourth child grow up in a teenage world.
Stromberg is nine years younger than his oldest sibling and six years behind the second youngest. He lived to get a laugh and be the center of attention.
His parents said they never had to make a trip to the principal’s office with their other three kids — Scott, Tim and Bonnie. But they met the principal several times because of Ricky.
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“Nothing malicious,” Scott said. “He was trying to make his brothers laugh all the time and keep up with them. He just took that to school, and he was so funny. He’s kind of quiet now, but he was not quiet growing up.”
Diane lost track of how many times she received calls asking her to come to Cedar Ridge Elementary in Tulsa to talk with teachers about him. He was the class clown, and a bit of a rascal to others who knew him.
“Some of my mom friends at the time, they purposely asked if Ricky could not be in the same like fourth- or fifth-grade class because he would get a look at his friends, raise his eyebrows, start making faces and then his friends would start giggling and they wouldn’t stop,” Diane said. “It was a class disruption. That’s how he started it.
“Ricky would just get the giggles and he wouldn’t stop. He just couldn’t. Scott didn’t have to go up there as many times as I did.”
The class clown phase of his life may be largely behind him, but he remains the center of attention for Arkansas’ offense as its steady and reliable veteran in the middle.
According to Pro Football Focus, he has been the Razorbacks’ third-best offensive player in 2022, behind quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. The senior has an overall offense grade of 82.8.
Stromberg, according to PFF’s data, has been at his best as a run blocker, posting a grade of 84.1 through 11 games.
“Ricky is … I love him,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “He’s tough, he’s been reliable, he’s been loyal. To be a 265-pound kid out of high school that probably not a lot of SEC schools recruited, to be where he is today, it’s all on him and his work ethic and who he is — and his parents.
“I’m going to miss him. I love him to death, and I think he’s a wonderful example of hard work and perseverance and toughness. That’s exactly who he is.”
According to 247 Sports’ timeline of events in Stromberg’s recruitment, the Razorbacks were the only SEC program to extend the Union High School standout an offer. His first three scholarship offers came from Tulsa, Eastern Michigan and Arkansas State.
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On June 25, 2018, Stromberg committed to the hometown Golden Hurricane. Roughly six months later, Arkansas offered. The next day, Stromberg decommitted from Tulsa and committed to the Razorbacks.
Then, on Dec. 19, 2018, he signed with Arkansas. His father recalled throughout the recruiting process that his son wholeheartedly believed he was a better player than what his offer list showed. The lineman had a great deal of self-confidence.
He would often tell his dad that he belonged at a high-major program and could be a more impactful and influential player than those receiving the offers he felt he deserved. And the high school football coaches in the Tulsa area told Arkansas’ staff much of the same at the time.
“Ricky’s high school coach told everybody that would come into town that Ricky was the best high school player he’s ever coached from the day he stepped on the field from Day 1 of sophomore year — best linemen we’ve ever had here,” Scott said. “They’ve had some really good linemen at Union. Chad Morris came to Tulsa and he went to all the other high schools and all the other coaches were telling him … the Jenks guy was telling him, ‘Stromberg is the one you’re missing. He’s the one. That’s the one you want.’
“Then he went up to Coach (Bill) Blankenship at Owasso, and Blankenship was like, ‘This is the guy that we’re talking about that you’re missing.’ All these coaches are saying, ‘This is the kid you’re missing. You’re missing on him. You’re missing on him.’ They came and saw Ricky and then they had to see what they were going to do with some other commits, and they got room and then they offered him two days before the early signing period.
“That was the first time we knew he had a chance to play Power 5 football.”
Stromberg has started 43 of 45 games played in his Arkansas career. The 43 starts are the most of any Razorbacks offensive lineman.
He has made 24 consecutive starts at center, the second-longest streak along the line behind left guard Brady Latham’s 34.
“I think Pittman admires that about him,” Scott said. “He knows he’s a tough kid and will play through stuff. He’s definitely a tough kid when it comes to that stuff. He’s not going to miss.
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“He was injured once in high school and (his brother Tim) was like, ‘Are you going to play or not?’ Most people would think that the dad would be riding their kid. His brother was in his head. ‘What would Timmy do? What would he say?’ His brother was a big part of him becoming a more mentally tough person and a more disciplined force.”
According to Scott, Alabama to close the 2020 season is the lone game his son has not played in since beginning football in kindergarten. He has started others and been forced to exit because of injury, but full participation from the lineman has largely been a given over the years.
And in those games he has gotten the Razorbacks’ offense in order and on the same page.
“He’s got kind of a poise to him when he’s out on the field,” Wagner said. “He’s so fast with (middle linebacker) points. He makes everything really quickly. And I think the best thing about it is how much he cares about the success of the O-line is what drives us all to play as hard as we can, as well.”
According to PFF, Stromberg has allowed four sacks in his career over 1,532 pass-blocking snaps.
But above all else, Scott and Diane just want to see their son rise to his feet from the pile that forms after nearly every play. That is concern No. 1 while taking in his games.
They both find great peace, though, in seeing him joyful before, during and after games.
“He’s just a humble young man,” Diane said. “Ricky is genuinely a nice kid, and he’s really handled all of the publicity, whether negative or positive. He’s taken it in stride, and we’re proud. I’m so proud of that, because he’s not a bragger.
“This kid had a football in his crib. He lives football, he eats football, and that’s his big why. He loves the game.”
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