In life, many people chase after a number because it’s a literal and measurable way to calculate success. Others look to achieve more of a personal best, a sense of satisfaction only they have a real understanding of.
LSU graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow falls into the latter category. It’s a philosophy he’s adopted since he first held the football in his hands.
“The summer before his senior year we were watching game tape from the year before,” Athens High School’s Nathan White says. “He said to me ‘coach, I wasn’t very good last year.’ He had thrown for over 3,500 yards and 47 touchdowns during his junior season and yet there he was telling me he wasn’t very good. He didn’t care about the hype or the offers or the stats. He just wanted to get better every day. This was one of the many moments with Joe that made me realize he is a very special player.”
Teammate Troy Stalder noticed this in Burrow when they began sharing a football field in elementary school.
“He has a no-quit attitude, and this kind of fight in him that you don’t see in too many people,” he said. “It’s rare. I’ve known Joe since we were kids, and not once have I seen him take a day off.”
One of Stalder’s favorite memories with Burrow was when the Bulldogs’ hopes for a shot at the State Championship hung on an unlikely comeback from a large deficit.
“...during our Final Four game senior year, we were down at the half, and we knew we had to step up. That’s exactly what Joe did. The thing about Joe is that he shows no fear and has an attitude to conquer that makes the rest of us think the same way. He lead the team to score 27 points in the second half, and we advanced to the state finalists game.”
Burrow has shown the tangibles you want in a starting quarterback. Both the film and the rave reviews from his past coaches and teammates illustrate it. But those who know him will always talk about the intangibles, which may be even more important in the long run.
Burrow doesn’t just work as hard as he does because he feels he should or like it’s required of him. LSU’s new quarterback needs football as much as his football program needs him.
“Joe has demonstrated his work ethic in so many ways over his years at Athens,” the Bulldogs’ Ryan Adams explained. “I believe that what is more impressive is the fact that he is just one of those people that enjoys the grind. The work is an important part of his life and he needs it to feel whole inside. He loves to prepare to be successful.”
Such virtue has paved the way for Burrow to make many major accomplishments, including one that appeared on SportsCenter’s Top 10 you’ve got to see to believe.
“There were so many amazing plays and games during his tenure in high school that it is hard to pick out a particular moment or play,” Adams said. “The play during our playoff game against Columbus DeSales in which he caught his own deflected pass and ran it in for a touchdown has got to be near the top of the list.”
But more memorable than any trick play or game-winning pass was the aura about Burrow and the atmosphere he was able to create in the locker room.
“...the environment that was created by him and his teammates in the locker room, I will always cherish,” Adams noted. “They truly cared for one another and enjoyed their time together. Playing tape ball in the locker room for an hour after two-a-day practices with twenty plus guys and Joe Burrow stirring the pot among them. It was special.”
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Burrow right now, but that hype is not left unaccompanied by understandable skepticism. Despite having more experience than all of the other LSU quarterbacks he’s competing with combined, Burrow still hasn’t seen a huge amount of playing time. Such an issue raises a lot of questions about just how he’ll adjust to a new system.
But those who have already spent time with Burrow couldn’t be more confident in the transfer’s ability to fit in. The spread offense Steve Ensminger will run presents no new obstacle. He’s been doing it since his elementary school days.
“Joey has been running the spread offense since he was in fifth grade, so obviously he’s very familiar with it and will fit in nicely,” Stalder says. “He brings everything to the table that you want in a quarterback. He’s a humble leader with a strong and accurate arm.”
Adams also sees the adjustment going smoothly.
“Joe’s talents will fit well at LSU. Reason being that he is the most lethal when he has great talent around him,” he explained. “His ability to understand how best to defeat his opponents defense is dangerous. He will utilize his skills to get the ball to who can inflict the most damage. His poise under pressure is impressive as well.”
The Tigers may have a treacherous 2018 schedule ahead, but the challenge it presents only makes Burrow better.
“He always played his best when our backs were up against the wall. He will make those around him better because of what he brings with him.”
It’s not only about what Burrow can do for himself and the health of the quarterback position or even the offense in general. The Ohio native is described as having a knack for bringing out the best in everyone around him.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a coach, teammate or friend.
“Joe is incredibly funny....great sense of humor,” Athens High School’s Nathan White said. “He is the best leader I have ever been around. His ability to bring out the best in his teammates is a quality I have never personally seen in another player. I truly think his leadership and calm confidence made each guy on our team a better football player. His willingness to be coached and his need to know why we did things absolutely made me a better coach.”
White also believes his former signal caller can help unlock the rising talent at LSU.
“Scheme-wise....It sounds like LSU is transitioning to more of a spread offense where they will put a lot on the quarterback’s plate, physically and mentally,” he said. “I know there is a tremendous amount of talent at LSU and the quarterback has to be a guy who can make decisions and throw the ball everywhere on the field to all of those talented guys. I can’t think of a better fit for Joe.”
White knows he’s a little — or maybe a lot — biased towards Joe. But it’s for good reason, and he is convinced you’ll be sharing it with him by season’s end.
“Joe is a team guy. As a high school player, in his eyes, it was never about him. It was always about us. I think this makes him a great fit in any program. I’m as biased as one can be when talking about Joe as a quarterback....not because he played in our program, but because I got to witness his work ethic, leadership and talent every day. I think almost anyone who gets to know Joe and sees him work would share this bias.”
This sense of “bias” looks to have been carried over to Ohio State as well. Current Buckeyes interim head coach Ryan Day who served as Burrow’s quarterbacks coach couldn’t have been more pleased with Burrow, and is sad to see him depart.
“Joe is a great person, has a great family and is an excellent football player,” Day said. “I wish I had more than just the one season to work with him, but I know he is going to do really well at LSU. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership he displayed in the classroom to get his degree in just three years, in our unit room and on the football field, and I wish him all the best in his new opportunity. I’m certainly pulling for him to have a great season.”
While a starting quarterback has yet to be officially named, it’s expected that it will be Burrow at the helm when the Tigers take on the Hurricanes in Arlington on Sept. 2.