ATHENS, Ohio — There isn’t much on the walls inside the gymnasium at Athens High School, which is why a pair of banners hanging above the bleachers really catch your eye as you step foot inside.
Each banner says “Gatorade Player of the Year” on it. One for 2013, the other for 2014.
They are in the place where Joe Burrow stars on the hardwood for the 14-2 Bulldogs, but they represent his accomplishments in a different sport.
As quarterback for the Athens football team, Burrow led the most prolific offense in the history of Ohio high school football this past season as the Bulldogs scored 861 points. He threw for 4,413 yards and 63 touchdowns against just two interceptions as Athens finished as the state runner-up in Division III. Burrow ranks third all time in Ohio high school history in career touchdown passes with 156.
His prolific career earned him those two Gatorade Player of the Year banners along with Ohio’s Mr. Football award for 2014.
And on Wednesday, inside the gym at his small-town high school, Burrow made it official as he signed his National Letter of Intent to play quarterback at Ohio State.
“Relieved is the exact word that I would use,” he said.
Because it wasn’t exactly an easy process for Burrow to get to this point.
At the beginning of his recruiting process, the 6-foot-4 190-pounder somewhat flew under the radar. Many teams had expressed interest, but the big offers didn’t come.
Not until Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer called at the end of May, anyway, to offer him a scholarship. Burrow committed almost instantly.
But as time went on and it got closer and closer to National Signing Day, rumors began to swirl. Would Burrow remain committed to the Buckeyes?
After all, Ohio State had a trio of talented quarterbacks already on its roster in Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. All of which are set to return next season. Another quarterback in Burrow's class, Torrance Gibson, was also committed. And, to top it off, Tom Herman left his position as the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks coach to become the head coach at Houston.
But despite all of that, Burrow said he “never really wavered” in his commitment. And a recent in-home visit from Meyer and new quarterbacks coach Tim Beck sealed the deal.
“(Meyer) taped the David Letterman Show, jumped on a plane and came right to Athens on the first night that you could — from the dead period. That meant a lot to us,” said Burrow’s father, Jim. “We had a good long visit at the house, took them back to the airport and then in the car afterward the first thing Joe said was, ‘I’m happy.’ That was just kind of just the final, solid commitment that he said to me. There was really no wavering.”
Having three high-caliber quarterbacks like the Buckeyes have may steer a lot of players away from a program. Not Burrow. He seems to embrace that challenge.
“The stable of quarterbacks at Ohio State right now, I honestly think that was part of the lure for him,” Athens head coach Ryan Adams said. “I think he wanted that challenge because he knows that competition is going to make him a very good football player as an end result.”
Burrow agreed, insisting he will be better for challenging himself amongst some of the best quarterbacks in all of college football.
“I’ll definitely be a better football player coming out of that room,” he said.
With such an embarrassment of riches at quarterback for Ohio State, it's likely Burrow will redshirt during his first year in Columbus. But, as we saw this year with the Buckeyes anything can happen at that position.
Adding Burrow was just more ammunition for Meyer at the sport's most important spot.
“I’m ready to compete and I’m ready to come in and compete for the starting job in a couple of years,” Burrow said. I’m very confident in my abilities.”