Stroud battles back from injury for strong start to senior season

Updated: October 1, 2003, 4:15 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- It didn't feel to Isaac Stroud as though he was having one of the best games of his Arkansas Tech career.

A fumbled handoff on a reverse at the start of the fourth quarter seemed to erase everything that had come before.

But none of that mattered when Harding linebacker Scott Dutile jumped on the ball at the Arkansas Tech 34 -- the ball that Stroud had fumbled. Tech was clinging to a 10-6 lead, and this was the Bisons' chance to go ahead.

Harding drove to the 5 before their own fumbled reverse -- recovered by the Bisons -- forced them to settle for a 40-yard field goal.

Stroud was one of the first off the bench to thank his defensive teammates.

"The defense kind of bailed me out," Stroud said. "I was about to cry. I wanted to kiss the defensive players after that. I was so happy."

Stroud finished with seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. The result was a 10-9 victory for the Wonder Boys (3-1, 2-0 Gulf South Conference).

"You can go from goat to hero or hero to goat pretty quick in some games," Arkansas Tech coach Steve Mullins said. "It looked like it was about to be a 20-yard plus gain. We had everything sealed and he just dropped it."

Stroud has had a lot to be happy about this year. The senior from Winchester, who played at McGehee, is tied for the team lead at 15 receptions with Willie Scott. His 111-yard effort last week made him the 13th receiver in Arkansas Tech history to surpass 1,000 yards.

He likely would have done that last year, but he was one of many Wonder Boys who missed part of or all of a 4-7 season with injuries.

In the sixth game, Stroud helped preserve Arkansas Tech's first Gulf South victory by leaping for an onside kick attempt in a 24-17 win over Delta State. He landed awkwardly and was plowed over by the kickoff team, suffering a high ankle sprain that never seemed to heal.

"We had so many people get hurt last year," Stroud said. "That was like a fluke because we were losing starters or key positions for the whole season. We weren't just losing people for a week."

Stroud is one of 11 seniors at Arkansas Tech, most of whom arrived in Russellville and were redshirted in 1999. That group has played a big part in making the Wonder Boys the only Arkansas team to start Gulf South play 2-0.

Stroud displays most of his leadership skills in the weight room and on the field.

"He's not a very vocal leader. He's one of those that leads by example," said quarterback Kyle Barkley. "He's one of the best in-shape guys I've been around. He's a power in the weight room. I think he bench-presses like 330 (pounds) and for a receiver that's unusual. He takes care of himself."

Mullins agreed: "There's not a child on our team that has a stronger work ethic than Isaac."

Stroud and Barkley, who missed all but two games last year with a shoulder injury, are slowly developing a connection. Stroud has caught 11 passes for 190 yards in the past two games.

The Wonder Boys offense hasn't clicked yet, averaging just 255.5 yards per game, but Barkley said things are improving.

"We've got some missed timing whether it be mine or his, but it will be worked out by the next week and hopefully we'll keep on rolling," Barkley said.

Stroud didn't have many opportunities on McGehee's 1998 Class AAA state title team. The Owls preferred to run the ball, but he took advantage of the ball when he had the chance, scoring seven times on 10 receptions for 287 yards.

He also made the most of what few opportunities he had as a redshirt freshman in 2000, scoring five touchdowns on just 13 receptions.

Stroud has also taken advantage of his time in the classroom at Arkansas Tech. Mullins said the receiver has a 3.2 grade point average and he will graduate with a degree in rehabilitation science in December.

He plans to work as a probation officer or look for the right graduate school next year.

Mullins is proud of Stroud for graduating in 4{ years and he would like to see him finish his Wonder Boys career with a strong season. Stroud has the same goal.

"I want to get as close as I can to a thousand yards receiving," he said. "I guess I also want to score more touchdowns, but mainly I just want to have a winning season and I want the team to be successful."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index