Late Saturday night, after Joe Burrow led LSU to a 45-38 victory at Texas by throwing for 471 yards with four touchdowns, he sat behind a microphone in front of dozens of reporters in a small room in the bowels of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

After the No. 4 Tigers piled up more than 1,000 yards of offense and 100 points in their first two games, a reporter asked Burrow if every game was going to be like that for LSU’s new-look spread offense.

“It’s a long season,” Burrow said. “But you can take a look at the last two scoreboards, and you can figure that one out.”

When another reporter asked Burrow if he considered himself among the best quarterbacks in the country, he didn’t hesitate before answering.

“I always kind of knew it,” he said. “I think everybody’s starting to see it a little bit.”

To outsiders, Burrow might sound cocky, brash or even arrogant.

For the people who know him best, his self-confidence is simply a product of his preparation and determination to outwork everyone else.

“He’s always been confident, even in practice,” LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. said. “That’s just Joe.”

Super Burrow

Joe Burrow, 22, is much younger than his older brothers, Jamie and Dan, who are his father Jimmy’s sons from his first marriage.

Jimmy Burrow played defensive back at Nebraska and was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the eighth round of the 1976 NFL draft. He played five years in the Canadian Football League before moving into coaching. He worked at Washington State, Iowa State, Nebraska, North Dakota State and Ohio, where he retired as defensive coordinator after the 2018 season.

Jamie was Nebraska’s starting middle linebacker in 2001, when the Cornhuskers finished 11-2 and lost to Miami 37-14 in the BCS National Championship. Dan was a walk-on safety for the Cornhuskers from 2000 to 2004.

Jamie and Dan aren’t afraid to admit that Joe is the family’s best athlete.

“Jamie’s a lot bigger than me, but I’m more athletic, and he would be the first one to tell you that,” Dan said. “Somehow, Joe got the best of it all. He has all of our good qualities and none of our negative qualities, so Joe has always been ‘Super Burrow’ to us.”

When Joe was about 2½ years old, Jimmy taught him how to ride a bike on the artificial turf at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.

“He fell down one time,” Jimmy recalled. “He got back up and didn’t fall again.”

When Joe started playing flag football when he was about 6, Jimmy asked one of the Cornhuskers’ video assistants to film his games. He showed the tapes to Joe’s older brothers.

“He was dropping like 40-yard bombs,” Jamie said. “I was like, ‘Is that normal? I don’t think that’s normal.'”

When Joe was tall enough to dunk a basketball, he sent cellphone videos of him doing it to his older brothers.

“His buddy was throwing the ball right over the rim, so it wasn’t really a dunk,” Jamie said. “He was barely throwing it over the rim.”

So Jamie and Dan did what older brothers like to do: They teased Joe and told him his dunks weren’t game-ready.

A few weeks later, when they attended one of his games just before Christmas, Joe stole the ball at midcourt and threw down a tomahawk dunk.

‘I’d never seen anything like it’

Burrow played on a travel AAU basketball team when he was 9. During one state tournament in Columbus, Ohio, Burrow’s team was trailing by eight points with about 30 seconds to go.

“We kind of thought it was over,” said Tom Vander Ven, who coached the team.

But then Burrow took over, scoring nine consecutive points, including seven straight foul shots, to lead his team to an improbable comeback. The other team kept fouling him — and he kept making shots.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Vander Ven said. “It was then that I knew he was different from everyone else. I couldn’t believe the poise under pressure and competitive drive demonstrated by a 9-year-old. The pressure didn’t seem to register with him at all. He just stood at the foul line and drained them one after the other. Most kids at that age couldn’t hit two free throws in a row, especially under pressure.”

Vander Ven is a professor of sociology at Ohio University. After that particular basketball game, he offered Burrow’s parents, Jimmy and Robin, an unsolicited diagnosis of their son.

“Because I’m a sociologist that studies crime, after the game I told his parents that Joe had the kind of qualities that you find in cops and first responders — and also serial offenders,” Vander Ven said. “The point I was making was he had the kind of qualities those people have, where his pulse probably doesn’t change no matter the situation he finds himself in. He could be mowing the lawn or pulling people from a fire and his pulse would probably stay about the same.”

Don Cooley, who also coached Burrow in basketball and baseball, said his best attribute wasn’t necessarily his athleticism.

“He wasn’t a freak,” Cooley said. “Don’t get me wrong, he was always one of the best kids at a tournament. The thing that always stood out about him was that no matter where we were going, Joe always thought we were going to win. We were from a small town, and even when we went to big cities, he was never afraid. He never had any fear.”

‘I’m a shooter. That’s what I do’

Burrow was a three-year starting point guard at Athens High School in Athens, Ohio, and one of the best shooters in the state. He averaged 17.1 points per game during his prep career and wasn’t afraid to shoot — he attempted 453 3-pointers in three seasons.

Jimmy Burrow didn’t have much luck in trying to persuade his youngest son to shoot closer to the basket.

In the fifth grade, Jimmy coached his son’s team while Vander Ven and Cooley were out of town at a baseball-coaching clinic.

With his dad on the bench, Burrow fired up 3s without much success.

“I just said, ‘Hey, you know, you’re taking a lot of 3s and you’re not making a lot of them right now. I think we should try to work the ball down inside or drive to the hole a little more,'” Jimmy Burrow said.

Burrow told his dad: “I’m a shooter. That’s what I do. I’m going to keep shooting 3s.”

‘As confident as anyone I’ve seen in sports’

Athens High didn’t have much of a football tradition before Burrow and his classmates joined the varsity team. From 2004 to 2008, the Bulldogs averaged two victories per season. Before Burrow was named the starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2012, Athens High had reached the state playoffs twice.

Burrow won 37 games in three years.

“He had confidence and swagger in the moment,” wide receiver Sam Vander Ven said. “In a crunch-time moment, he’s as confident as anyone I’ve seen in sports.”

In Burrow’s first playoff game against Circleville in November 2012, he ran for four touchdowns and threw for four more in a 63-28 victory. The next season, he scored on a 20-yard run in overtime to beat Tri-Valley 55-52 in the region semifinals.

“He’s never nervous,” said Ryan Luehrman, now a tight end at Ohio. “He always has 100% confidence in himself. In critical moments, it’s been that way his whole life. He lives for those moments.”

As a senior, Burrow threw for nearly 4,500 yards with 63 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Bulldogs won their first region championship with a 52-20 rout of St. Francis DeSales of Columbus, in which Burrow had seven total touchdowns.

In a 34-21 victory over St. Vincent-St. Mary (LeBron James‘ alma mater) in the state semifinals, Burrow led two fourth-quarter scoring drives and threw a 12-yard touchdown with 1 minutes, 52 seconds left to beat the two-time defending state champions.

Despite Burrow’s 452 yards and six touchdowns, the Bulldogs lost to Toledo Central Catholic 56-52 in the state championship game.

‘I found your next Alex Smith’

By Burrow’s junior season, plenty of Power 5 schools were recruiting him. But what Burrow really wanted was a scholarship offer from Ohio State.

After he threw 56 touchdowns and was named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year in 2013, then-Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman drove to Athens to watch Burrow throw.

Herman was impressed.

“I’ll never forget when he called me and said, ‘We found your next Alex Smith,'” then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.

Smith helped lead Utah to a 21-1 record in two seasons as a starter when Meyer coached the Utes in 2003-04.

“Tom felt really good about what he saw,” Meyer said. “Joe was a little bit of a late developer and sometimes that happens in a state like Ohio, where there’s no spring football. Tom saw it firsthand and came back to me and said it was a no-brainer.”

But Meyer still wasn’t convinced by what he saw on film. So Meyer told Herman to continue recruiting other quarterbacks. Herman scoured the country for someone better. He couldn’t find anyone.

Finally, Meyer called Burrow and offered him a scholarship.

“I got to spend time with him during recruiting but didn’t get to see him throw until he got to our place,” Meyer said. “I thought his arm strength and release time needed work. He needed to shorten up his delivery, and we actually worked on it together. I would see him every day working on the things he needed to work on.”

Burrow redshirted at Ohio State in 2015, played in five games as J.T. Barrett’s backup in 2016 and then broke a bone in his throwing hand before the start of the 2017 season. The next spring, he battled Dwayne Haskins for the starting job.

“It could have gone either way,” Meyer said. “One day, Joe was ahead and one day Dwayne was ahead. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made. I wanted to keep both of them.”

In May 2018, Burrow transferred to LSU, where he was eligible to play immediately as a graduate transfer. He led the Tigers to a 10-3 record in his first season as a starter.

“The player he was back in 2015 and what he’s made himself into today is through hard work,” Meyer said. “He’s one of the hardest-working players that I’ve had and that’s what’s given him the confidence that he has. Confidence has never been an issue.”

‘A throw I’ll remember for the rest of my life’

All of those earlier moments, it seemed, prepared Burrow for his biggest stage Saturday night. For more than three hours, he battled Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in a high-scoring duel.

When the Longhorns cut the Tigers’ lead to 37-31 with 3:59 left, LSU coach Ed Orgeron wondered if his offense should try to milk the clock and let the defense try to win the game.

“No,” offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger told him. “We’re going to pass the ball, go down there and score.”

“Go ahead,” Orgeron told him.

Orgeron’s steadfast belief in his offense — and his quarterback — hasn’t been commonplace at LSU. The Tigers have struggled to find a clutch quarterback seemingly forever, but know they have one now.

“Since last year, I knew Joe was going to do exactly what he has to do,” receiver Justin Jefferson said. “He does not back down from anything at all. I can look in his eyes and can tell that he wants to go get it. That’s what we need as a quarterback.”

On third-and-17 from the LSU 39, with the game on the line, Burrow threw down the left sideline for Jefferson, who hauled in the catch and broke loose for a 61-yard touchdown. Burrow’s two-point conversion pass to Ja’Marr Chase put the Tigers ahead 45-31 with 2:27 to go. They held on for a 45-38 victory over Texas — and Herman, the Longhorns’ third-year coach, who was among the first to believe Burrow could be the quarterback he saw Saturday night.

“It’s a throw that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said. “Joe was getting hit and threw a ball off one leg sidearmed to Justin Jefferson. That’s something I’ll take to my grave. A guy with arm talent like that and being so composed, that’s something that’s hard to find and we have it.”

And now, with Burrow under center running LSU’s wide-open offense, it seems the Tigers might finally have a chance to unseat Alabama, which has beaten them eight consecutive times. LSU scored a total of 10 points in its past three games against the Crimson Tide.

The Tigers will have to play six more games before their Nov. 9 showdown at No. 2 Alabama. Orgeron believes his team’s offense is only going to get better between now and then.

“This is the vision I always had when we took over,” Orgeron said. “We finally got there. We have the coaches to do it. We have the receivers to do it. We have the quarterback to do it.”

And make no mistake: The Tigers certainly have a quarterback who believes he can do it.




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