Before Joe Burrow was a Heisman Trophy winner and a National Champion, before he was a star quarterback at LSU, he was shredding defenses as the signal-caller for Athens High School.
Burrow was good enough to earn Ohio's Mr. Football Award, given to the state's best football player, in 2014. He earned a four-star recruiting ranking and a full ride to Ohio State. Five years after he left Athens for college, his high school's board unanimously approved the renaming of its stadium in honor of Burrow. And he just might be headed back to the Buckeye State to start his professional career this spring.
The Cincinnati Bengals own the 2020 draft's No. 1 pick and could use a fresh face of the franchise under center. Burrow's father, Jimmy, says a match between his son and the Bengals -- a homecoming of sorts for the former star who tossed touchdowns just a little more than 150 miles from Paul Brown Stadium -- would be a pleasant pairing.
"He definitely checks off a lot of boxes early on in the evaluation process," quarterbacks coach Andy Van Pelt told the team's official website. "He obviously looks like a very intriguing guy."
It's difficult not to be intrigued by a quarterback who tossed 60 touchdowns in his final season of college ball. Throw on the tape and it's hard not to fall in love with his play.
Burrow's accuracy is already at a premier level. Some of his touchdown completions are purely blissful to watch. His command of LSU's new-look offense, gained in just one season, only further excites those considering his vast potential.
"He's got natural pocket feel. He feels it," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "It seems like he never takes his eyes off down the field. He extends the play really, really well. He's a lot faster than you might assume when you see him running away from all those SEC guys. He's got incredible up-field accuracy. The ball hardly ever hits the ground in a game, which is rare. He just naturally puts the ball in places where those guys can make plays."
Burrow might soon be making plenty of such plays along the banks of the Ohio River. It'll be new territory for the stellar signal-caller, but in the familiar environment of southern Ohio, not far from where Burrow called home from the age of nine while his dad served as defensive coordinator for the Ohio University Bobcats.