Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad, a former star at East Lake, was taken in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos. He becomes the third Eagles player selected in the NFL draft in the past five years, joining Mason Cole (Michigan/Arizona Cardinals) and Tyler Higbee (Western Kentucky/Los Angeles Rams).
A team captain with the Demon Deacons, Strnad was an all-ACC honorable mention selection this past season despite playing just eight games because of a ruptured bicep tendon.
Strnad knew coming back from a torn bicep paled in comparison to what he had already endured.
In April of 2012, Strand’s uncle, Bubba, killed himself.
To cope with that loss, Strand became more involved with suicide awareness. He took part in walks that brought attention to the cause. He talked about the importance of helplines. He wore wristbands to honor his beloved uncle.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could to spread the word,” Strnad said.
More heartbreak followed. Strand’s mother has been arrested numerous times on charges ranging from battery to grand theft. It became too much to bear. About three years ago, Strnad severed the relationship.
“I can’t even remember the last time I talked to my mom it’s been that long,” Strnad said. “I’ve been through so many different situations it made me grow up fast. It helped overcome adversity.
“Sure, I was down in the dumps after my injury, but I’ve been through worse. It’s not as bad as losing an uncle or not having a relationship with your mother. Life isn’t always filled with smooth roads. There’s going to be bumps.”
He still finished his senior season with 69 tackles, two sacks and an interception. Those numbers helped Strnad land on the Bednarik Award watch list and get an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl.
At Wake Forest, Strnad steadily improved as a linebacker, recording at least 50 tackles in each of his last three seasons. That got the attention of NFL scouts who saw him as a potential pick.
Then came the injury. Strnad did most of the rehabilitation work at the EXOS Athletes Performance Institute in Pensacola. He decided to go to the NFL Combine despite not at full strength.
Unable to perform some tests, such as the bench press, Strnad hoped to show more of what he could do during a pro day. He never got the opportunity. The coronavirus pandemic prevented scouts from traveling across the country to evaluate prospects.
Workouts facilities, including the one run by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Yo Murphy, were eventually shut down. Nevertheless, Strnad endured. His father went online to purchase workout equipment, turning the garage in his Palm Harbor home into a makeshift gym.
To work on speed and agility, Strnad headed to a local soccer field. The sessions were recorded and sent to NFL teams.
His continued to stay on the radar with plenty of teams.
Strnad’s family had reserved the entire third level of the Hooter’s on Clearwater Beach to accommodate friends and family from out of town. Those plans had to be scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, there was a handful of people at the house.
They all celebrated.