FAYETTEVILLE — A big smile crossed the face of Arkansas left tackle Luke Jones Nov. 15 when a reporter asked him about center Ricky Stromberg’s impact and play.
It was the kind of grin that screamed, “I know something you don’t know and I’ll never tell.”
Right tackle Dalton Wagner, seated 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 and off the field. He’s a fantastic soccer player. We are fortunate to have him as our focal point 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 caged 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 the person Jones described better than anyone. They saw their fourth child growing up in a teenage world.
Stromberg is nine years younger than his eldest brother and six years behind the second youngest. He lived to laugh and be the center of attention.
His parents said they never had to drive to the principal’s office with their other three children — Scott, Tim, and Bonnie. But because of Ricky, they met the principal several times.
More from WholeHogSports: Latest episode of the Whole Hog Football Podcast featuring Missouri previews, a possible bowl game and more
“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 it was so funny. He’s kind of calm now, but he wasn’t calm growing up.
Diane lost count of the number of calls she received asking her to come to Cedar Ridge Elementary in Tulsa to talk to teachers about him. He was the class clown and, to those who knew him, a little rascal.
“Some of my mom friends at the time purposely asked if Ricky couldn’t go in the same grade as fourth or fifth grade because he would take one look at his friends, raise 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.
“Ricky just got the giggles and he didn’t stop. He just couldn’t. Scott didn’t have to go upstairs as often as I did.”
While the class clown phase of his life may be largely behind him, he remains at the center of the Arkansas offense as a consistent and dependable veteran at center.
He was the Razorbacks’ third-best offensive player in 2022, behind quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, according to Pro Football Focus. The senior has an overall penalty of 82.8.
Stromberg was at his best as a running blocker, according to PFF data, posting an 84.1 grade in 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 many SEC schools have recruited to be where he is today, it all depends on him and his work ethic and who he is — and his Parents.
“I will miss him. I love him more than anything and I think he is a wonderful example of hard work, perseverance and tenacity. That’s what he is.”
According to 247 Sports’ schedule of events in Stromberg’s enlistment, the Razorbacks were the only SEC program to make a standout offer to Union High School. His first three grant offers came from Tulsa, Eastern Michigan, and Arkansas State.
More from WholeHogSports: Mizzou focused on getting the trophy back from Arkansas
On June 25, 2018, Stromberg committed to hometown Golden Hurricane. About six months later, Arkansas offered. The next day, Stromberg broke away from Tulsa and committed to the Razorbacks.
Then, on December 19, 2018, he signed with Arkansas. His father recalled throughout the recruitment process that his son wholeheartedly believed he was a better player than his offer list showed. The lineman had a lot of confidence.
He often told his father that he belonged to a high-major program and could be a more influential and influential player than those who received the offers he felt he deserved. And the high school football coaches in the Tulsa area told the Arkansas staff a lot of that back then.
“Ricky’s high school coach told anyone who would come into town that Ricky was the best high school player he’d coached since he took the field on day one of sophomore — the best linemen we’ve ever been here had,” Scott said. “They 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 told him… the Jenks guy told him, ‘Stromberg is the one you’re missing. He is the one. That’s what you want.’
“Then he went to Coach (Bill) Blankenship in Owasso, and Blankenship said, ‘That’s the guy we’re talking about, you miss.’ All these coaches say, ‘This is the kid you’re missing. you miss him You miss him.” They came and looked at Ricky and then they had to see what they were going to do with some other commits and they got space and then they offered him two days before the early signing deadline.
“That was the first time we knew he had a chance to play Power 5 football.”
Stromberg has played 43 of 45 games 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 things out. He’s definitely a tough kid when it comes to stuff like that. He will not be missing.
More from WholeHogSports: Jefferson is not yet thinking about plans for 2023
“He got hurt once in high school and[his brother Tim]said, ‘Are you going to play or not?’ Most people would think that the father would ride their child. His brother was on his mind. “What would Timmy do? What would he say?’ His brother played a big part in making him a mentally tougher person and a more disciplined force.”
According to Scott, as the 2020 season wraps up, Alabama is the only game his son hasn’t attended since he started playing football in kindergarten. He’s started others and had to pull out with injury, but full lineman participation has largely come as a matter of course over the years.
And in those games, he fixed the Razorbacks’ offense and got it on the same page.
“He has a certain balance when he’s on the field,” said Wagner. “He’s so quick with (middle linebacker) points. He does everything very quickly. And I think the best part is how much he cares about the O-Line’s success, which drives us all to play as hard as we can.”
According to the PFF, Stromberg has allowed four sacks over 1,532 pass-blocking snaps in his career.
But most of all, Scott and Diane just want to see their son stand out from the crowd that forms after almost every game. This is number 1 concern while recording his games.
However, both find great peace in seeing him happy before, during and after the games.
“He’s just a humble young man,” Diane said. “Ricky is a really nice boy and he really took care of all the publicity, be it negative or positive. He took it easy and we’re proud. I’m so proud of that because he’s not a braggart.
“This kid had a soccer ball in his crib. He lives football, he eats football, and that’s his big why. He loves the game.”