To say that tight end Jace Sternberger has experienced a number of stops throughout his football journey would be selling it short.
A 6-foot-4, 251-pound tight end out of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, Sternberger didn’t have an extensive list of scholarship offers coming out of high school. In fact, he was leaning toward attending community college if it wasn’t for a late offer from former Jayhawks head coach David Beaty and the University of Kansas.
In his first season at Kansas, the Jayhawks failed to win a single game, finishing the 2015 campaign with a 0-12 mark and a 31-point average margin of defeat.
"I don’t think you could script worse ways to lose games," Sternberger said, thinking back to his freshman year at Kansas. "I was oblivious to the talent in college football."
Sternberger, who is now a member of the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions, joined RJ Young on his podcast, "The Number One College Football Show," to discuss his well-traveled football career and explain how he got to where he is today.
After spending two seasons at Kansas, Sternberger made the decision to transfer to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a community college located in Miami, Oklahoma. It was an experience Sternberger described as "refreshing."
"Coming from Kansas, being on a team and being around coaches who were working on the same goal … everybody was trying to get out of there," Sternberger said of his year spent at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. "Our goal was to get with it, win games, and get out."
That’s exactly what Sternberger did as the team finished 9-3 in the 2017 season, which led to him receiving an offer from Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies. Fisher had initially recruited Sternberger when he was at Florida State, but he made the decision to leave FSU and accept the head coaching role at Texas A&M in December 2017.
Sternberger followed Fisher to College Station, making him Fisher’s first official commitment at his new school.
It didn’t take long for Sternberger to gain an understanding of just how different the fan base at an SEC powerhouse like Texas A&M is compared to his previous stops.
"I remember my JUCO highlight tape had like 2,500 views, but once I posted that I was going to visit A&M, the views went up to 19,000 the next day and were above 30,000 by Sunday," Sternberger told Young. "I just thought that was incredible."
Sternberger’s goal in going to Texas A&M was to play against the best competition in college football and prove to himself and others that he belonged. The talented tight end did just that, hauling in a team-high 48 catches for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to being named a consensus All-American.
Following his lone season at Texas A&M, Sternberger decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, where he was selected in the third round by the Green Bay Packers. He played two seasons in Green Bay, with his best year coming in 2020 where he caught 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Sternberger spent the next couple of years bouncing around the NFL from team to team, with stops in Seattle, Washington and Pittsburgh along the way. After being waved by the Steelers in 2022, he signed with the Birmingham Stallions in January 2023 and is in the midst of a standout season with his new club.
Through four weeks of the USFL season, Sternberger has already recorded 14 catches for 223 yards and three touchdowns, all while helping guide the Stallions to a 3-1 record. He attributes part of his success to Stallions quarterback Alex McGough, who also happens to be his roommate.
"It’s just something about being around your quarterback every day where you just kind of start to pick up on each other’s personalities and this and that," Sternberger said. "When I’m asking questions, Alex [McGough] knows how my brain works and what I’m processing and what I’m thinking."
It's been a well-traveled journey for Sternberger, who is now on his fifth professional team after three stops in college. But as Sternberger was quick to admit to Young, it's all part of the process of proving to himself and others that he belongs.
"That's why I still got that chip on my shoulder," Sternberger said. "I feel like what I’m going through right now is that same exact thing I went through [in college,] it's just now I'm in an older body and in an older situation because it’s the USFL and not JUCO. That’s my mindset right now for everything."
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The Number One College Football Show" on YouTube.