NEW YORK – Before he headed to the stage at the front of the PlayStation Theater to give his acceptance speech as the winner of this year’s Heisman Trophy, Joe Burrow made a detour.
Burrow had already received congratulatory embraces from the other three Heisman finalists, his parents, Ed Orgeron and the rest of the LSU contingent on hand to celebrate with him. But there were two other people in the room he also wanted to thank.
So before Burrow went up to the front of the room, buttoned his jacket and climbed the steps to lift the Heisman in celebration, he walked across the room to where Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and director of sports performance Mickey Marotti were seated and took a moment to give each of them a handshake and a hug.
After he gathered his emotions, Burrow went on to express his gratitude for his time at Ohio State on multiple occasions in his address to the crowd, making it clear that even in the most emotional moment of his life – a moment he said made him cry more than he had ever cried before – he hadn’t forgotten where he came from.
“I’m just so thankful for LSU and Ohio State,” Burrow said. “Playing at two of the best programs in the country. Great coaches, both places. My journey, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.”
Day and Marotti weren’t in New York on Saturday night because of Burrow. They were there for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young, who were both invited to New York after finishing third and fourth in this year’s Heisman voting. Yet they still had reason to celebrate, reason to be happy that someone they played a role in developing – Marotti for all of Burrow’s three-plus years at Ohio State, and Day for Burrow’s final season and final spring as a Buckeye – was crowned as college football’s best individual player for the 2019 season.
Having them in the room made Saturday night even more special for the Heisman winner.
“It was so awesome to have Coach O and all my LSU coaches here and then Coach Day and Coach Mick,” Burrow said in his winner’s press conference following the Heisman ceremony. “It was super special for me. I love Coach Day and Coach Mick with all my heart.
“I’m also forever grateful for them. Because they gave me opportunities when not a lot of people were going to out of high school at that level. They’ll forever hold a place in my heart, and I hope they know that.”
Few people would have seen Saturday night coming when Burrow was the 280th-ranked prospect in the recruiting class of 2015. Few people would have seen Saturday night coming when he left Ohio State as a graduate transfer in the summer of 2018, having never started a game for the Buckeyes and facing at least one more year as a backup to Dwayne Haskins if he stayed.
One person who could see it coming, as Orgeron recalled in his press conference on Saturday night: LSU safeties coach Bill Busch, who saw the potential of Burrow in 2015, when Burrow was a true freshman for the Buckeyes and Busch was a quality control coach for the Buckeyes.
“He came up to me and these were his exact words: ‘Coach, if we get Joe Burrow, we’re going to be in the College Football Playoff,’” Orgeron said.
Burrow never got his chance to demonstrate that potential to the world at Ohio State. J.T. Barrett was the starter for each of his three seasons with the Buckeyes, and Dwayne Haskins surpassed Burrow in the pecking order after he broke his hand in preseason camp in 2017. But starting his collegiate career at Ohio State was still an important – and positive – step in his path to becoming a Heisman winner.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” Burrow said. “I really wanted to make sure that I mentioned them, because a lot of times people transfer and there’s hard feelings, but there’s no hard feelings. And they know that, too. I try to go back there as much as I can and I still have best friends on the team now, and stay in contact with everybody there, so I just wanted to make sure they knew that I haven’t forgotten about them. They helped me become the player I am today.”
“They’ll forever hold a place in my heart, and I hope they know that.”– Joe BUrrow on Ohio State coaches Ryan Day and Mickey Marotti
Growing up in Athens, Ohio, was a big part of Burrow’s journey to getting to where he is now, as well, and he didn’t forget about those roots on Saturday night, either. After explaining that many people live in poverty in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains where he grew up, Burrow – who will soon be a multimillionaire as one of the top picks in the 2020 NFL draft – pledged to give back as much as he can to the area where he’s from.
“I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and in Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school,” Burrow said in his speech. “You guys can be up here too.”
Burrow received no shortage of congratulatory messages from his home state and from Ohio State on Saturday night, including both of the Buckeyes’ finalists, who took to Ohio State’s official Twitter account to give their congratulations to Burrow.
Young will likely join Burrow in being one of the top picks in the 2020 NFL draft in April. But Fields, who is only a true sophomore, will be back at Ohio State for at least one more year, and Burrow believes the Buckeyes’ current quarterback will have his own opportunity to experience the same moment of glory that he did on Saturday night.
“Obviously Justin will be back next year, and I think he’ll win it next year,” Burrow said.