MADE IN THE PLAINS: Parents, coaches explain why Joe Burrow was destined to lead the Tigers

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THE PLAINS, Ohio (WAFB) - There’s something familiar about a drive-thru in Ohio.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) warms up before an NCAA football game against Alabama Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. | Source: AP Photo / Vasha Hunt

“People come through and you just go get what they want, and they hand you the money. It’s easy,” Issac Coey explains.

Coey doesn’t know how to make a daiquiri and his hometown in The Plains couldn’t be further from our Louisiana swamps. But inside the Beverage Drive-thru liquor store, he’s found a little Louisiana flair.

“Everyone here says they're an LSU fan now. I kind of call them on that and say, ‘I think we’re more Joe Burrow fans,’” Coey says.

But whether for the player or the team, The Plains are dotted with purple and gold. They’re colors that pair well with Athens Bulldog green.

“The goalpost was just there for the water jugs because we didn’t kick field goals,” Sam Smathers says.

Coach Smathers gave Joe his first true colors in elementary school on this field now named in his family’s honor. They’re one of many who helped put Athens football back on the map.

“Gotta have fun when your coaching kids,” Smathers says.

Burrow’s coach explains that Burrow was ahead of the curve even during pee-wee football.

“He picked up on things that, you know, other kids just weren’t as quick to pick up on. He could be the field general at that level.”

And, you might expect that from the son of a D-1 football coach, but it wasn’t just his mastery of the Wing-T offense that set the quiet third-grader apart.

“He was the first one in line and I’m telling you what, he was wanting to lay that hit,” Smathers says, it was his toughness. “You could tell. He’d come off the field stomping.”

“He’s mad at himself. He can score 70 and put up astronomical numbers, knowing that one play – it’ll bug him. It’ll eat at him. He’ll have to go out and get that better,” Smathers explains.

Even for a child, it’s a common trait here because, in The Plains, hard work is almost a religion.

“This is a very blue-collar area. A lot of people have the get your lunch box and go to work mentality,” explains Tom Hardy.

But neighbors like Hardy say Joe had some unique ingredients. “As great as everyone is, he’s just on another level.”

“This is a very hardworking community. It’s an old coal mining area, so that’s definitely in the culture around us. But I think, in general, that culture is where we feel comfortable,” explains Joe’s mother, Robin Burrow.

“You know, he understood what Athens county was all about and wanted to be a good representative of it with his character and his work ethic,” says Joe’s father, Jimmy Burrow.

And there’s no better evidence than in the Athens High School weight room, where Joe worked to turn minute weaknesses into his greatest strengths and his observations on toughness are memorialized next to his records.

“The confidence Joe has comes from knowing there has been no stone unturned. He’s done everything he can do to get to that Saturday,” explains Nathan White, who coached Joe and other Athens QBs here on Fridays.

He’ll tell you Joe decided to be a great quarterback, and no one was going to outwork him.

“He threw for 47 touchdowns or something as a sophomore and as a junior, and we were watching tape over the summer going into his senior of some same-scheme stuff that we were running – and he said, ‘Man, I wasn’t very good last year,’” White says.

But he was good enough in his senior year to lead the Bulldogs to the state championship game and help set the Ohio record for points in a season. All the while, trying to convince his coaches to let him play defense.

“He doesn’t like coming off the field,” Jimmy Burrow says.

Which is what made Ohio State so tough.

“When he wasn’t playing, he wanted to be a part of it and get out there. He tried to get coach Meyer and Kerry Combs, the ST coordinator, to put him on at least the kickoff team so he could run down. They never went for that,” Jimmy Burrow explains.

Injuries and competition kept him from the opportunities he sought when he signed, but he fulfilled his commitment and graduated anyway.

“He took his time in deciding whether he was going to transfer from Ohio State, and he also took his time in deciding where he was going to go. And, he made a great decision,” Robin Burrow says.

And in true Burrow fashion, he chose LSU – partly because they did not promise him a starting job, but rather a chance to compete.

“Think, deep down, we all said we respect that. They could’ve said ‘Hey Joe, you come here and you’re number one from day one. But he likes to earn things and he saw it as a great opportunity,” Jimmy Burrow says.

These days, Coach Smathers watches the last of his youth league players from his front porch and Joe on the TV in his garage, where he’s already got a space picked out for a piece of Heisman memorabilia.

“It’ll have its pants pulled down and it’ll sit right here,” Smathers says.

And rightfully so and The Plains have earned it.

“Nothing like him comes out of this place. It was so unwarranted, unprecedented,” Coey explains.

But no one like Joe comes from somewhere much different.

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