Joe Burrow has LSU fans, NFL scouts and his hometown waiting to see how magical his season can be
Burrow's magnificent season elevating the Tigers has been a whirlwind for all surrounding the quarterback
THE PLAINS, Ohio -- At a nondescript dining table in a quiet suburban home 78 miles from Columbus, the shaping of Joe Burrow's future has begun.
"All the time," Burrow's father replies when asked whether agents have begun seeking representation of his son, LSU's quarterback and quite possibly the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner.
"Drew Rosenhaus has been here, all those guys," Jimmy Burrow continues. "Between that, marketing people, financial advisers [there have been a lot]."
He goes on to mention the Creative Artists Agency power couple of Jimmy Sexton and Tom Condon. Between them, the two CAA agents represent a large swath of college coaches and NFL players. CAA brags that it has 64 first-round draft picks alone since 2010.
"Joe doesn't want anything to do with it. We don't want him to. We limit phone calls to him," Jimmy Burrow says.
But very soon, the Burrow family will have to deal with it. Joe's star has risen so far, so fast that it's hard to keep track how far and how fast.
About 18 months after arriving on campus, Joe Burrow on Saturday will attempt to lead No. 2 LSU to an SEC title and College Football Playoff berth. In that space of time, he has been the difference in a program that was consistently bogged down offensively until he arrived with all of 38 career passes to his resume.
While Burrow's career and LSU's fortunes speed toward Atlanta, here in The Plains, things slow down. To its residents, he is still Joey, the hometown hero who lost his first game at Athens High School and then never lost another in the regular season.
They have placed homemade "Geaux Jeaux" signs on their homes, a salute to the Cajun culture Burrow has embraced.
Gigi's has become the unofficial headquarters of everything Burrow. The breakfast-lunch joint in nearby Athens could pass as a Joe Burrow Memorial. An LSU T-shirt hangs from the ceiling. A purple and gold wreath hangs on a wall.
"I came in yesterday [and saw] an LSU-painted rock on my counter," said Gigi's owner Travis Brand. "I've had no less than 20 or 30 phone calls from people in Baton Rouge just calling to say, 'Hey.' They just think we're so cool."
Gigi's held an impromptu pep rally before the Alabama game on Nov. 9. Its Facebook page welcomed all LSU fans, telling Bama fans to go get their own food. "Pretty sure the McRib is back. Go to McDonald's."
Brand thought nothing of jumping in a car after Thanksgiving dinner and driving 15 hours to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had been invited by an LSU fan who had seen Gigi's on Facebook.
Once there, Brand was promised a swamp tour by Troy Landry, star of The History Channel's "Swamp People." That along with all the jambalaya he could eat.
"I don't know if they're diehard fans or that's just the Southern way," Brand said.
On the day of our conversation, Jimmy Burrow drove to Gigi's to intercept a reporter. There were roads closed near his home. It was best just to follow him.
Jimmy hasn't turned down a media request regarding his son. If Joe were a new movie, there couldn't be a better roll out. Would you demur when your son is the most celebrated college athlete in the country?
This is simply parents showing their pride. Robin, Joe's mother, is a school principal. Two half-brothers Jamie and Dan both played at Nebraska and have been heavily involved in the agent proceedings.
Jimmy, 66, was a Nebraska defensive back and a transfer himself. It was an upset back when he went to Ole Miss to play baseball and walk on in football. His dad had played basketball at Mississippi State.
At Nebraska, he played with one Heisman winner (Johnny Rodgers) and helped coach another (Eric Crouch). When Ohio State played in Lincoln, Nebraska, earlier this season, Jimmy sat in the suite of the man he both played and worked for -- Tom Osborne.
"He'll either answer his phone or call back within 15 minutes," Jimmy said. "When he was a congressman, I called him once. He answered and said, 'I'm in a meeting.' Who does that?"
Jimmy still gets a CFL pension, having won a Grey Cup with the Montreal Alouettes in 1977. For 14 years, he was Frank Solich's defensive coordinator at nearby Ohio.
He retired last year to watch Joe play football at LSU. It isn't easy to get from southeast Ohio to the SEC capitals, but it has been damn fun. Jimmy and Robin can't walk across a typically raucous LSU tailgate without being stopped.
"As Joe would tell you, 'Dad, what do you expect? You've got a No. 9 jersey with 'Burrow' on the back,'" Jimmy recalled.
Only a football-playing dad would notice something was amiss after the Alabama game that has made this moment possible. Burrow had just played the game of his life, completing 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns. The performance included a season-high 64 rushing yards.
"He was kind of limping coming out of the locker room," Jimmy said. "I kept bugging him. He finally said, 'Look, dad, I just played Alabama in an SEC football game. Yes, I'm sore.'
"That was it."
Jimmy and Robin were more than just concerned parents after last year's Texas A&M game. Joe was one of the last players out of the locker room. Trainers had to hook him up to a series of IVs after the seven-overtime loss.
"We knew all those players were exhausted," Jimmy said. "Eventually, the trainers come out and say Robin and I need to come in there. 'He's going to be OK, but he's hooked up to an IV.' To see him laying there with that going on ... we have to say goodbye and put him on the bus. It was a pretty emotional night for us."
Ohio State lost Joe. Nebraska could've had him. Husker fans snarking at Scott Frost on Twitter have dug up a quote from his first spring game in 2018. Burrow was in the process of transferring from Ohio State to LSU a month later.
Asked about Burrow's availability, Frost said that day, "You think he's better than what we got?"
With their deep Nebraska roots, all of it hurts Jimmy, Joe, Jamie and Dan. As a six-year old, Joe watched from the Rose Bowl stands as Jamie played middle linebacker for the Huskers and his dad was a graduate assistant for Solich.
Joe learned to ride a back on the artificial turf at Memorial Stadium.
"Scott Frost is a friend," Jimmy said. "I didn't want to blame it on Scott. I got it. I understood it. It took me a while to really get over the whole [idea of] him not being there. That was our dream. It wasn't to play at Ohio State."
Frost's statement seems silly today, but it made sense in the moment. Nebraska was in the process of welcoming freshman Adrian Martinez. Frost should be forgiven for any retroactive judgment. None of us -- including the quarterback's family -- knew Burrow was going to blow up like this.
Unless his right arm falls off, Burrow will become the first quarterback in history to complete 78 percent of his passes and throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
It almost seems too soon to be over. In terms of a breakout star, Burrow has the talent and charisma that oozed from other Heisman winners. Remember how Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Football demanded our attention and sometimes our hearts?
The big time awaits this quarterback from small-town America. Does Burrow wish he had one more year?
"Of course I do," he told reporters. "This place is super special. I went up to our trainer, and I said, 'You guys find me a sixth year? You know, I'm coming back.' Unfortunately, I was not able to find that sixth year, so this will be the last one."
If Burrow does indeed win the Heisman, it will create a ripple effect of honor. He would be LSU's second Heisman winner, the first since the legendary Billy Cannon in 1959.
Burrow actually graduated from Ohio State before transferring. Doesn't that get Joe Burrow, Heisman Winner a "notable alumni" mention in future Ohio State media guides?
Don't bet on it. There is still discussion in the Burrow household over whether Joe could have accomplished the same things at Ohio State. Depending who you listen to, Joe might have won the job over Dwayne Haskins in the spring of 2018.
Haskins was named starter and became a Heisman finalist, accounting for 54 touchdowns. Burrow went to LSU where he completed 58 percent in a still-struggling offense.
"He was a Day 3 pick coming into this season because last year he was just a guy," CBS Sports draft analyst Ryan Wilson said of Burrow.
None of it mattered last month when Burrow was carried off the field on his teammates' shoulders after winning at Alabama. Joe Brady had long been hired away from the New Orleans Saints to install the spread at LSU. More than that, coach Ed Orgeron fully embraced Brady, which allowed Burrow to blossom in Year 2.
"This is why I decided to transfer," Burrow said after the Alabama game. "I wanted to play on this stage."
In a way, he built that stage. Burrow's fearless running ability that night might have been the difference in turning the SEC and season in LSU's favor.
"I enjoy getting hit sometimes," Burrow said. "It makes me feel like a real football player instead of a quarterback. People kind of look down on quarterbacks that are not taking hits."
When the time came to transfer, there were at least 25 schools involved. That included Alabama and Georgia, who already had star quarterbacks.
That wasn't going to cut it. Joe, Jimmy and his brothers huddled. They assembled a list of schools with quarterback openings.
LSU was it after a 30-minute on-campus meeting on the new offense became a two-hour meeting. In front of the coaches, Jimmy diagrammed plays his father didn't know his son knew.
Burrow stands poised to become the most accurate single-season passer in history. Going into Saturday, he has completed 78.3 percent of his passes (314 of 401). He would have to finish the season completing only 67 percent of his passes in his remaining games to drop to below Colt McCoy's single-season record of 76.7 percent set at Texas in 2009. (Supposing at least two more games.)
His "worst" completion percentage in any single game was 71 percent against Utah.
It's all coming to a quick conclusion. Next week, Burrow is likely to be named a Heisman finalist.
"That's scary," his dad said. "Those questions are starting to happen. That's something we've avoided talking about. I guess you could say you could jinx it."
There is something scarier in a somewhat unknown future. Wilson has already projected Burrow as a top-five pick, perhaps No. 1 overall to the woeful Cincinnati Bengals.
"The only trepidation about taking Joe Burrow No. 1 is he's going to get killed," Wilson surmised.
Killed? No. Slowed down? Maybe, in a football sense.
That's in some NFL future. For now, let's remember Joe, Jimmy, the Burrows and The Plains the way they are.
This story was originally published on Dec. 6, 2019.
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