From undervalued high school prospect to two-year backup, Joe Burrow’s meteoric rise was something he always expected
Joe Burrow knew.
It took some time, relentless determination and a perfect marriage, but he knew.
On Saturday, he became LSU’s second-ever Heisman trophy winner, but Burrow’s path to stardom has been anything but ordinary.
In fact, his success has been fueled by his past, where he practically stood unwanted and undervalued for most of his high school and early collegiate career.
It’s been a revenge tour ever since, and now he stands alone as the most decorated player in program history.
Burrow’s journey to Baton Rouge was an unconventional one. His two older brothers, along with his father, all played football at the University of Nebraska. Growing up as a boy in Athens, Ohio, Burrow’s ultimate dream was to one day play in Lincoln, but it never worked out.
After spending two years as a backup at Ohio State, Burrow decided to finally transfer, giving him a second-chance opportunity to make his childhood dream come true.
Even with improvement, maturity and strong family ties to the Cornhuskers, that opportunity was denied again. He was told not once, but a second time that he wasn’t good enough.
“I wanted to go to Nebraska,” Burrow said in an interview with ESPN. “They told me I wasn’t good enough.”
He’s kept a mental log of it all. All the recruiters that told him no. All the Elite 11 quarterbacks that were chosen over him. It’s all been free fuel in the tank.
“That’s just who I am,” said Burrow. “You can accept the fact that those people were saying those guys are better than you, or you can keep working. That’s what I did.”
Then came an infamous night at Mike Anderson’s that would change the landscape of LSU football forever, where head coach Ed Orgeron hosted Burrow for a three-day visit in Baton Rouge to sell him on why he should become the program’s next quarterback.
Those discussions were quickly halted as Orgeron realized the restaurant didn’t serve crawfish, forcing LSU’s head coach to ask the manager to go out and retrieve 15 pounds of crawfish and cook it for them anyway. From that moment, the two were a match made in heaven, and the legend of Joe Burreaux was born.
Burrow’s first season in Baton Rouge was definitely nothing to gloss over. Starting all 13 games, the Ohio State-transfer-turned-LSU Tiger passed for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns. Saying very little from the word go, Burrow won the team over in fall camp, where Orgeron says he showed up early to workouts and won nearly every sprint.
Noticeably quiet and reserved, his lead-by-example mentality spoke loud and clear.
“I knew after the Fiesta Bowl last year how special we could be,” Burrow said. “We were losing three starters on the whole team. I knew the receivers we had coming back. I knew we had all five offensive linemen coming back.”
Despite a great deal of offseason skepticism about LSU’s new-look offense, Burrow knew deep down how lethal this group could be. Sitting now as a Heisman Trophy winner and the head honcho to the most prolific offense in college football, this is exactly the direction Burrow envisioned his football career going, even through all the detours it’s thrown him.
Serving as a camp counselor at the Manning Pass Academy last summer, Burrow was surrounded by reporters, all of them eager to learn more about new passing game coordinator Joe Brady and his offensive philosophy.
“I think we’re going to score a lot of points and I don’t think a lot of people are used to LSU scoring 40, 50, 60 points a game,” Burrow said at the camp. “I think if we do what we need to do up until fall camp and continue our hard work in fall camp, we can be one of the best offenses in the country.”
Joe Burrow knew, man.
From the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
Reporter: How different is the offense going to be?
Burrow: ? pic.twitter.com/npgNrydg41
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) November 13, 2019
Burrow believed it, but everyone else laughed.
In LSU’s season-opener against Georgia Southern, Burrow went 23-for-27, for 278 yards and five touchdowns. The offense scored 55 points, which set the mark for the most points scored by and SEC team in the first four games of the season in the history of the conference.
Statement made. But it wasn’t enough to win over some of the doubters.
Then came a top-10 showdown in Austin against the University of Texas and a 3rd-and-17 that will forever live in LSU football lore. Burrow’s game-sealing 61-yard knockout punch to Justin Jefferson was the play that solidified the Tigers’ offense among college football’s elite.
“That was one of the best throws I’ve made,” Burrow said at the media availability after the Texas game. “I was pretty proud of myself, I’m not going to lie.”
Burrow is a quirky guy who loves cartoons. He often wears clothes depicting SpongeBob Squarepants and the Looney Tunes, but when the lights are brightest on a Saturday nothing seems to faze him. He’s your typical alpha. And it was that night in Austin where the nation saw that at first glance.
“[Texas] was bringing zero, so I knew they were blitzing one more than we could block,” Burrow said when describing the 3rd-and-17 play. “They had a spy on me in the middle. So I knew that if I bought time my guys were going to be open. I was able to buy just enough time for Justin [Jefferson] to get open for me over the middle.”
Burrow’s always been appreciative of Louisiana and the opportunity that LSU provided him. But it wasn’t until Nov. 9 when he truly fell in love with the university and the people. It just clicked.
After LSU’s historic 46-41 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa — a game where Burrow solidified his Heisman campaign — the team arrived back to the Baton Rouge airport to hundreds of screaming fans. It wasn’t until then that Burrow’s love affair with Louisiana became clear.
Burrow ran across the airport fence, greeting each fan with a high five. One might say it was the night of the Texas game that Burrow became a star, but it was the Alabama night he became immortal.
The Tigers are Home! pic.twitter.com/obkumiD2Ua
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) November 10, 2019
At 12:43 that night, Burrow tweeted: “Louisiana I love you.” I think it’s safe to say they love him back.
“I didn’t really realize how much this meant to Louisiana,” Burrow told the media the Monday after the game. “It was pretty special. I was very surprised to see it and I wanted to do anything I could to embrace the people that came out.”
Ahead of his final game in Tiger Stadium, Burrow’s Louisiana love affair took its next — and most powerful — step.
During the week, Burrow went to LSU’s equipment staff to ask of a favor. In this special favor, Burrow wanted to figure out a way to show some form of appreciation for the state and the university that resurrected his football career. He wanted a custom jersey made exclusively for pregame, where the uniform displayed the name “Burreaux” on the back as a sign of gratitude.
“He asked if he could do it and I said hell yeah,” said Orgeron after the Texas A&M game. “He can do what he wants.”
So it happened. With the Burreaux jersey on his back, Joe ran out of the tunnel on Senior Night to an earsplitting roar, hugged his family, and put two L’s in the sky. It’s a moment LSU fans will never, ever forget. And it’s a moment in history that was captured perfectly by LSU’s video staff.
Joe Burrow pic.twitter.com/q00BGBPfr8
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) November 30, 2019
What was already true before became reality in that moment: this is Joe’s world and Joe’s state, and we’re all just living in it.
Currently standing at 4,715 yards, 48 touchdowns and a season-long completion percentage of 77.9%, Burrow has etched his name as the greatest to ever do it in school history at his position. It goes without saying there will be a Burrow statue that resides outside Tiger Stadium one day, and many believe the wheels are already in motion.
“My parents tell me stories of people thanking them for sending me down here,” Burrow said. But my whole family is like ‘thanks for resurrecting my career’ and everything you have done for me.”
He’s definitely learned a few things from his father Jimmy, a former all-star defensive back and retired college coach.
Before the SEC Championship, Burrow’s parents couldn’t reach him because his cell phone was broken. When they offered to buy him a new phone, Joe said: “I don’t need a phone. I’ve got a game to play.” His focus is championship-esque, and he acts like a true coach’s kid.
At Friday’s Heisman Trophy media availability, Burrow was asked what he would’ve said a year ago if someone told him about all the accolades he and LSU have received. Heisman front-runner, an undefeated season and a CFP berth was just par for the course in his eyes.
“We expected to have a really good year,” Burrow said. “If we weren’t 13-0, to be honest, we would have been disappointed. All these awards are icing on the cake, but that 13-0 means a lot to us.”
Burrow certainly prides himself on consistency.
Between the white lines, Burrow’s as consistent as any quarterback to ever play, currently holding the highest completion percentage for a QB in college football history. Burrow has hovered around a 77-78% completion rating for the entire month of November, underscoring how steadily dominant he’s been.
Off the field? He’s just as consistent.
Burrow dons a black Fiesta Bowl sweatshirt and a blue tie dye Looney Tunes crew neck like it’s the only piece of clothing he owns. Every single game, he wears one sock inside-out. His pregame meal is always spaghetti with a Caramel Apple Sucker. He puts his pads on the same way every time. You could say he’s superstitious. You can say he’s regimented. But, why stop now?
“I think all the great ones have a really good routine, and they stick to it,” he said.
Well, on Saturday he became a great one, hoisting the most prestigious individual award in all of sports. Burrow, who signed with LSU the day the school’s last Heisman winner Billy Cannon passed away, believes that may be a sign from above.
“There’s too many things like that in football to not believe in something,” Burrow said just hours before the ceremony. “I don’t know if you believe in God or a football God. But there’s too many things like that in life to just have coincidences.”
After being named the winner, Burrow fought back tears during his speech as he thanked Coach O, his offensive line, family and those who’ve helped him get to this point. He made history, something he’s become quite accustomed to doing, taking home the Heisman by the largest margin of victory, netting 90.7% of first-place votes.
“You took a chance on me,” Burrow said to Orgeron with tears in his eyes. “You have no idea how much you mean to my family. I am forever grateful for you.”
Joe Burrow gets emotional as he talks about how much Coach O has meant to his family. pic.twitter.com/BdaiQ9zQbX
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 15, 2019
Leading LSU to its first-ever College Football Playoff berth, Burrow’s legacy still has chapters to be written. But one thing remains certain: The kid from Athens, Ohio is a Louisiana legend.
“This place means so much to me,” said Burrow. “I never could have dreamed that this was going to happen.”
There’s many ways one could describe Burrow the person and Burrow the player, but he says they are two completely different people.
“There’s the Joe that you guys see, then there’s the Joe that steps across those white lines,” he said on Friday. “Those are two different people. My parents always say ‘we’ve never seen that side of you,’ and I say you’ve never been on the field with me before.”
He also happens to be the best collegiate football player in America.
Back in the summer, when Burrow was scoffed at for saying LSU’s offense could be one of the best in the country, he firmly believed it. Walking off the stage with the Heisman Trophy in hand, he’s the one who got the last laugh.
“I told you,” Burrow said to the media after beating Alabama. “Nobody believed me, but I told you.”
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