Kyla Stroud’s father played football for the legendary Pat Dye at Auburn University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Now, more than two decades later, she plans to follow in his footsteps, albeit on another field of play.
by Chris Bridges
Family means a great deal in the Stroud household.
It certainly comes into play when Horace Stroud and his daughter, Kyla, talk about Auburn University and the qualities that drew both of them to the school. Horace, who works as the athletic manager for the Newton County Recreation Commission, was a standout football player at Rockdale County High School in the 1980s and continued his academic and athletic pursuits at Auburn (1988–91). Kyla, meanwhile, already has her path mapped out once she graduates from Newton High School. She committed as a seventh grader to play fast-pitch softball for the Lady Tigers. The decision was hers and hers alone.
Horace remembers his own courtship with Auburn.
“For me, Auburn had a hometown feel to it,” he said. “It felt more like home than any other place I considered. There was just a strong family vibe when I went there. Of course, I was also a big Bo Jackson fan, so that probably influenced me some. I was a homebody. I didn’t want to go to school so far away that my parents could never see me play, and I didn’t want to be so far away that I couldn’t go back home if something happened. Auburn was ideal because it was far enough away that I couldn’t run home every day, but it was not too far from home, either.”
Horace also felt an immediate connection to hall of famer Pat Dye, who led the Tigers to 99 victories, four Southeastern Conference championships and five Top 10 finishes during his 12 seasons as the school’s head football coach. “Coach Dye was such a father figure to me,” he said. “He was a great man.” Not long before Dye’s death in June 2020, he met Kyla and assured her that she would be taken care of at Auburn. “He told her that I was like a son to him,” Horace said. “The enthusiasm that Coach Dye showed me and Kyla is something that is hard to overlook. He was just a great person, as well as a great coach.”
Kyla’s athletic interests were difficult for her father to decipher initially. When she was 4 years old, she played for a co-ed baseball team but let it be known that it was not for her. Horace thought his daughter was looking elsewhere, so he enrolled her in gymnastics and ballet.
“What it turned out to be was that she did not want to play baseball with boys,” he said. “Softball was her passion, even early on.”
Kyla established a Newton County Recreation Commission record when she blasted 16 home runs as an 8-year-old. Her prodigious skills only developed further from there, and she made her college intentions known at 13 while still at Cousins Middle School. Horace at first encouraged his daughter to consider possibilities other than Auburn, fearing many would believe her decision had been based solely on past history.
“I told her to make the decision that best fits her. She has always been an Auburn fan—we were dressing her in Auburn clothes almost as soon as she was born—but this had to be her choice. Once we drop her off, she has to be comfortable enough to stay.”Horace Stroud
“I told her not to go just because I went there,” Horace said. “I told her to make the decision that best fits her. She has always been an Auburn fan—we were dressing her in Auburn clothes almost as soon as she was born—but this had to be her choice. Once we drop her off, she has to be comfortable enough to stay.”
There was significant interest from other major programs, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Washington, Notre Dame and LSU. However, Kyla cited the family environment that was present when she visited Auburn as one of the strongest selling points. She claims she would have made the same decision, regardless of whether or not her father had once attended college there.
“I was very impressed with the facilities, as well,” Kyla said.
Kyla helped lead Newton to the state playoffs as a junior in 2021, splitting time between first and third base. She battled a shoulder injury throughout the season but still batted .419 with 33 runs batted in and a .761 slugging percentage. Kyla figures to enter her senior campaign as one of the most feared hitters in the state, although she and her father understand the journey has only just begun.
“She worked to get to this point,” Horace said, “but she has to keep working.”
Kyla speaks with a confidence that belies her youth and sounds willing to embrace the challenges that remain in front of her.
“I really enjoy the sport,” she said. “I guess you have to love it to have done it for as long as I have. I can’t imagine not playing. I’m glad the decision on where to go to college has been made. Now I concentrate on getting back to 100% and continuing to improve my game.”