How many people can say they went to the same elementary school, and high school, as the Heisman Trophy winner?
As I write this column, LSU Tiger Quarterback Joe Burrow — with 41 touchdown passes to his credit this season — was getting set to lead his undefeated Tigers, ranked No. 2 at 11-0, against Texas Tech. It would be the last regular game of the season for Burrow & Co. before they reach the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title game, which will be against No. 4-ranked Georgia.
But it is Burrow’s smart decision making and uncanny accuracy, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes, that I believe will result in his taking home the Heisman Trophy following the Dec. 14 ceremony in New York. Completing nearly 80 percent of one’s passes almost never happens in college football, it’s record setting. The Heisman is awarded annually to the nation’s top college football player.
Burrow had just six interceptions heading into Saturday’s game. He appears to make the right decision in the pocket on nearly every play, often under heavy pressure. He is just a super-smart player. Plus, he has the athleticism and motor to take off and scramble for first downs when receivers are covered. This is why I know he will be a terrific NFL quarterback if placed in the right situation — and I am hoping the hapless, winless Cincinnati Bengals draft him first in the NFL draft this coming April. Keep Joe in Ohio for his NFL years, and watch all of southern Ohio — the southeast part where Athens is — join southwest Ohio in cheering for the “Who Dey Burrow-led Bengals.” If that happens, I can see myself tilting more from a lifelong Browns fan into more of a Bengals fan.
And to think, Burrow and I both attended the same elementary school in Athens, Ohio. When I was a fifth-grader in 1975, the school was known as Morrison Elementary School. Thirty-two years later Burrow was a fifth-grader in 2007 at the school’s newer location. But one thing we both had in common was the same principal — the venerable John L. Gordon. He was such a long-standing principal and did such a good job that the school district added his name to the building, now end from Northmor, was also selected to the defensive First Team. He had seven sacks, six tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and seven sacks for the playoff-bound Golden Knights. He was also a potent threat on offense, averaging 28.4 yards per catch (540 yards) on 19 receptions as a tight end.
known as Morrison-Gordon Elementary School. Gordon, as you might guess, has been a huge fan of Burrow’s accomplishments on the field and off, including his legendary record-breaking season as an Athens High School Bulldog senior quarterback in 2014. The elder principal has been retired for several years, giving him more time to watch his former student’s quarterbacking. In the state championship football game in 2014, played at The Horseshoe in Columbus, Burrow passed for six touchdowns in a tremendously hard-fought 56-52 final with Toledo Central Catholic coming out on top. But the game served as a sign of things to come as to how good Burrow would be as a collegian.
Last season, his first with LSU, Burrow — the former backup quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2016 and 2017— only passed for 16 touchdowns. So having a new, wide open offense and talented wideouts at LSU this season has really helped.
About last season: It ended in glory for Burrow and his LSU squad, adding to his legendary passing prowess that has grown in national stature since he first gained attention as a record-setting quarterback from Athens, Ohio. Burrow led his team to a thrilling 40-32 win over an undefeated University of Central Florida team in the 2019 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, played on Jan. 1, which snapped UCF’s 25-game win streak. LSU, heading into that game, was ranked No. 11 at 9-3, with UCF ranked No. 7 and 12-0. Burrow threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns.
Burrow led his team to numerous wins over Top 20-ranked teams last season, just as he has done this season — LSU 45, Texas 38; LSU 42, Florida 28; LSU 23, Auburn 20; and the big one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, played Nov. 9 — LSU 46, Alabama 41. In that one, Burrow was 31 for 39 passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also took off with 14 rushing attempts for 64 yards, including a run right up the middle late in the fourth quarter that led to another touchdown sealing the victory.
This all sets up what could be one of the greatest recent storylines in college football championship lore — Burrow, the lead Heisman candidate, potentially taking his No. 2-ranked LSU Tigers against his former team, the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. If current rankings hold into the four-team College Football Playoff, No. 1 Ohio State would play No. 4 (currently Georgia), while No. 2 LSU would play No. 3 Clemson. This means Ohio State-LSU is a very real possibility for the national championship.
People have asked me — a lifetime Ohio State fan — who I would root for. And I have to be honest. How can I go against the player, mighty Joe Burrow, who graduated from my own elementary school and high school? Though raised in Athens like Joe Burrow, I was also an Ohio University Bobcat fan. Joe’s father was an OU defensive assistant coach for many years under long-time Bobcat coach Frank Solich. But let’s face it, Ohio State competes for national championships, and the Bobcats not so much. I would want LSU-Ohio State to be a close, well played, hard-fought game. Ohio State has its own Heisman candidate, defensive lineman standout Chase Young — the most dominant defensive player in the country. So whoever wins will have earned it.
Seeing Burrow win a national title would not only be good for LSU; it would be great for southeast Ohio, where Burrow fans wear LSU purple and gold far and wide. And then, seeing him taken by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft would be an amazing outcome as well. Imagine an AFC North Division with three bright young quarterback stars — Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, and Burrow joining the mix as a Bengal. Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers is too old to be included in this group but has had a great career. Seeing the young guns slug it out would make for thrilling rivalries for years to come.
But first things first, Joe. Best to you on the Heisman Trophy quest and LSU’s national championship aspirations. If you pull off those two things, the key to two cities — Athens, Ohio, of course, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana — should be yours. I was in the stands on a cold night in Logan, Ohio when you threw a touchdown pass to yourself — off a ricochet bouncing off a defensive lineman — during a 52-20 Athens High School playoff rout over Columbus St. Francis DeSales in November 2014. And I was also on hand at The Horseshoe in Columbus when you threw your first collegiate touchdown pass as a Buckeye, a 36-yard pass to Demario McCall, during a 77-10 rout of Bowling Green State University in September 2016. I foresee many more thrills to come as you treat your fan base to some more classic football matchups and outcomes.