In recognition of how big Joe Burrow has become on the national stage, APG Ohio’s sister papers, The Athens Messenger and The Athens NEWS, are running a three-part series charting Athens High School 2015 graduate Joe Burrrow’s storied road to the pinnacle of success in American sports, the Heisman Trophy.
For this series, we culled content mainly from articles written over the past seven years by Athens Messenger Sports Editor
Kevin Wiseman and Messenger sports writer Jason Arkley. However, we did use material from an article The Athens NEWS ran in early November.
This is part 2, charting Burrow’s recruitment and play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Part 3 will appear in our Jan. 2 edition.
Burrow becomes a Buckeye
The headline for a May 27, 2014 Athens Messenger story proclaimed the big news, “AHS to OSU: Burrow Says Yes to Buckeyes.”
In the article, Messenger sports writer Jason Arkley led off by mentioning the Nebraska roots of Joe Burrow’s family:
“His family made him a Cornhusker. Circumstance dictated he would be a Bulldog. And destiny seemed to direct him toward being a Bobcat. But Joe Burrow chose to be a Buckeye.”
The story reported that Burrow, just coming off two record-setting seasons for Athens High School, had announced via Twitter that he had committed to Ohio State University, on the same day that he received the offer from the Buckeyes. This was Burrow’s 17th — and ultimately final — college scholarship offer.
“I was waiting for them,” Burrow said. “When they finally offered, I knew right away.”
Burrow explained his reasoning. “You can’t turn down the chance to compete for multiple National Championships,” he said in the article. “To be coached by (OSU Head Coach) Urban Meyer, you’re going to have a chance to win the Heisman, win national titles.”
Stop for a moment and savor the irony of that last sentence — as we all know now, Burrow’s three-year-plus tenure with the Buckeyes didn’t quite work out the way Burrow expected, with him redshirting his first year, then playing backup for two years. The good news for Burrow is that he ultimately did win a Heisman Trophy, but for a different school, LSU.
Arkley’s story recounted how Burrow — 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds — had seen his recruiting stock soar in the spring of his junior year. As a junior in 2013, Burrow passed for 3,732 yards and 47 touchdowns and added 589 yards rushing and nine scores in helping Athens advance to a Division III regional championship game.
As a sophomore, Arkley continued, Burrow threw for 3,239 yards and 47 scores and added 13 touchdowns and 836 yards rushing.
Rated a four-star recruit by the major scouting services, Arkley wrote, Burrow had 17 scholarship offers. The offers included several from Mid-American Conference schools, and major programs from the SEC (Vanderbilt, Kentucky), Big 12 (Iowa St., West Virginia), Big Ten (Maryland, Minnesota), and ACC (Virginia Tech, Boston College).
Among the schools Burrow turned down, according to Arkley, was Ohio University, where his father Jimmy (now retired) was the defensive coordinator at the time. Joe Burrow said the Bobcats were on his short list for obvious reasons, and were still very much under consideration until the day he committed to Ohio State.
“That does make it a little bittersweet,” he said at the time. “I’ve grown up with all the coaches (at Ohio University); they’re my dad’s friends and like a family. I know they’re all happy for me, but probably like me, a little sad about it too.”
Arkley’s story talked about the Nebraska roots of the Burrow family. His dad and Joe’s two half-brothers all played for the Cornhuskers at Nebraska. Jimmy Burrow admitted that he used to think about Joe upholding the family tradition, but Nebraska never showed much interest.
“We’d already kind of pushed through that disappointment,” Jimmy said in Arkley’s story. “It didn’t happen.”
In the article, then Athens High School head coach Ryan Adams said he wasn’t surprised the Buckeyes finally saw what he’d noticed the past few years. Then OSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman had been in The Plains to watch Burrow throw a few weeks before his commitment to the Buckeyes. Burrow also had visited OSU the previous month and attended the Buckeyes’ camp in the summer of 2013.
“I’ve seen a lot of football and a lot of football players in my 42 years on the planet,” Adams said at the time. “And Joe has everything that you would ever want in a quarterback.”
Arkley’s story said that Joe Burrow said OSU’s Herman had told him that the Bucks were looking for a quarterback who can do it all, but specifically “throw it first and run it second.
“In talking with them, it sounds exactly what I do,” Burrow added at the time.
Burrow is gifted physically, but it’s his mental game that separates him from others, Adams said.
The story reported that while Burrow’s coronation as a Buckeye wouldn’t happen until signing day in February 2015, “when he does sign, Burrow will become the first (Athens) Bulldog since the 1950s to go to Ohio State as a scholarship football player.”
The story concluded with Jimmy Burrow explaining why he was OK with his son’s signing on with a team other than the one Jimmy coached for, the Ohio Bobcats.
“As a coach, I absolutely wanted him to play for Ohio,” Jimmy Burrow admitted. “But we let it be his decision. This is what he wanted, and where he thinks he’ll be happy. And as a dad, that makes me happy. And the dad part of it has to trump the coach part of it.”
In an article for the Dec. 2, 2014 Athens Messenger, Sports Editor
Wiseman wrote that in light of his commitment to Ohio State, “Burrow has had some adjusting to do. For example he picked up nearly 2,000 Twitter followers after his OSU commitment. All of a sudden, a lot of people want to know what’s on his mind, daily.”
He also gets different requests from fans after games, Wiseman wrote, requests that don’t usually go to Athens football players.
“Someone wanted my chin strap last game so I thought that was kind of odd,” Burrow said. “I don’t really understand it. I’m just out there playing football, doing what I love.”
A Feb. 4, 2015 Athens Messenger article reported on signing day for four Athens High School seniors, Joe Burrow, Trae Williams, Ryan Luehrman and Adam Luehrman.
A nut graph in the story by Messenger Sports Editor
Kevin Wiseman read, “Athens High School was host to, perhaps, the biggest signing day any southern Ohio school has ever witnessed.”
On National Signing Day, Burrow signed with Ohio State, as expected, Williams with Northwestern, and Ryan and Adam Luehrman with Ohio University.
“There’s a lot of different emotions you’ve got to go through,” then Athens coach Ryan Adams said in the article. “As the head coach of a football program to see us sign four D-1 guys today is certainly an indicator of how far the program’s come to an extent.”
For Burrow, Ohio’s reigning Mr. Football, the signing ended once and for all any speculation about whether he was going to switch his commitment from the Buckeyes.
“It definitely did feel long especially in the last couple months when people were trying to flip me and kept calling me but I never wavered on my commitment and I’m just happy it’s over with,” Burrow said in the article.
While the expectation was that Burrow would redshirt and not play in 2015, he said he was ready to compete. “I’m just excited to come in and compete, and that’s what you have to get ready to do when you get there, compete with all those quarterbacks there and I’ll be a better football player coming out of that,” he said.
“This has always been my dream,” Burrow said in the article. “When I was little, they were playing for Nebraska so I wanted to be a Nebraska Cornhusker. They kind of wished that, too, but they’re very happy with me coming to Ohio State and so am I.”
“The Bulldogs were a tight-knit group during their run to the Division III state championship game, the Messenger’s Wiseman reported in his article. “Signing day was an extension of that, as four friends all signed their papers at the same time.”
“It really means a lot that those guys be by my side when we did that,” Burrow said at the time. “We’re very good friends, and we’ll have some more fun.”
Treading Water at OSU; on to LSU
After months of speculation, Joe Burrow put the uncertainty to rest, tweeting on a Tuesday afternoon in May 2018 that he had decided to transfer from the Ohio State football team. The tweet came two days after Burrow got his undergraduate degree from Ohio State.
The decision, according to a May 8, 2018, article by Athens Messenger sports writer Jason Arkley, meant that Burrow, as a graduate transfer, could play immediately, and still have two years of eligibility remaining at his new stop.
“After weeks of struggling with this decision, I have decided to leave Ohio State and explore other options,” Burrow posted on Twitter. “My teammates and coaches all know the love I feel for them. I will decide where I will play next year in the coming weeks.”
Burrow spent three seasons with the Buckeyes, and completed his undergraduate degree in just three academic years. He took a redshirt season in 2015, and over the next two years appeared in 10 games with OSU. He completed 74.4 percent of his passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
In the weeks leading up to his decision, Burrow had excelled in spring exhibition games for the Buckeyes, including the final one on April 14 when he threw for 230 yards completing 15 of 22, Arkley reported in his article. In three spring games, Burrow completed 43 of 67 passes (64.2 percent) for 688 yards and eight touchdowns.
Burrow spent the 2016 season as the backup to then OSU starter J.T. Barrett, and was in the running to continue that role in 2017 before a broken bone in his throw hand left an opening for the eventual starter Duane Haskins to fill.
In that fateful spring of 2018, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer had said that both Burrow and Haskins were neck and neck through spring camp. But neither Meyer nor OSU quarterbacks coach Ryan Day (now head coach for No. 2 Ohio State) named a winner in the quarterback competition following the completion of spring camp.
In making his decision to transfer, according to Wiseman’s article, Burrow said he believed he could play at the highest levels of college football. “Well, I came here (OSU) to play. I didn’t come here to sit on the bench for four years,” Burrow said. “And I know I’m a pretty darn good quarterback. And I want to play somewhere. I think I’ve come a long way.”
At the time, speculation on Burrow’s next stop included big schools whose quarterback jobs were undecided at that time, including power programs in Florida, Nebraska and Texas Christian. Nebraska, of course, also was talked about, as well as the Cincinnati Bearcats, whose coach Luke Fickell had his own OSU connection, having coached there previously.
But the Burrows, Joe and his dad, kept private counsel about what Joe was considering that first week in May 2018.
“We’ve made a decision to not make any more statements or do any interviews,” Jimmy Burrow said via a text exchange at the time. “I would say just about everything is on the table right now.”
The decision would come on May 20, 2018.
IN THE THIRD PART of this series, planned for Jan. 2, we’ll look at Burrow’s decision to transfer to LSU and his spectacular performance there these last two years. By then, in the aftermath of the Dec. 28 semifinal between the Tigers and Oklahoma, we’ll know whether LSU will play in the national championship game against the winner of the Ohio State-Clemson semifinal, also on Dec. 28.