Joe Burrow kept coming back, no matter how hard he got hit. It was the spring of his freshman year and he was facing Ohio State’s first-team defense, and he was taking a beating.
Future NFL stars teed off on him, burying him into turf during the weekly Saturday scrimmages. It didn’t discourage him. Years before he rose to stardom — first at LSU and now in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals — Burrow wouldn’t quit.
“He just got punished and he would keep getting up and coming back for more,” Greg Schiano, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator at the time, told The Post in a phone interview. “I just knew he was a real tough guy. You saw him do stuff, and as always, you wonder: Would he be able to do it under the lights, when it was real? And I had a feeling he could because nothing really fazed him.”
Back then, nobody could have known what Burrow would become, that he would blossom after transferring from Ohio State and get selected first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Bengals, lead them to the Super Bowl in just his second season in the league.
Schiano laughed when asked what he would’ve thought at the time if he was told Burrow would develop as he has. But the Rutgers head coach also pointed out, it wasn’t an accident. Burrow was a four-star recruit and Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2014. He came from a football family, a father, Jim, who was a college football assistant coach for nearly four decades, and only knew one way to go about his business: By working relentlessly.
“He was very athletic, he could throw, but so can a lot of kids,” Schiano said. “I just thought he was physically and mentally tougher than most quarterbacks I had been around. He was a football player playing quarterback, if that makes sense.”
Schiano saw it up close in the two years they spent together at Ohio State. It wasn’t just that spring, either. It was how Burrow attacked winter workouts. How much teammates gravitated toward him. He didn’t let his place on the depth chart get him down. It was only after biding his time for three years, and losing out to Dwayne Haskins for the starting job in 2018, that he opted to go elsewhere.
Following a mediocre first season as LSU’s starting quarterback, Burrow responded with one of the all-time great years for a college quarterback, leading the Tigers to a perfect season while setting an NCAA single-season record with 60 touchdown passes. Even after he was gone, he remained a topic of conversation among Ohio State players. The team kept tabs on him, rooting for him from a distance.
“That means they really liked him and really cared about him, otherwise they wouldn’t give a crap,” Schiano said. “That says something about the guy and the teammate he was. That goes back to going through the winter program and being right next to a linebacker and not being able to tell the difference if you didn’t know who was who. That kind of toughness is what made everybody love him.”
One Ohio State player in particular — former running back Mike Weber — may have had an inkling before anyone else. Back on Feb. 6, 2017, he sent out a tweet that has gone viral in recent weeks.
“Joe Burrow is the Next Tom Brady and y’all don’t even know it,” he wrote, accompanied by an emoji of someone shaking his head.
“Wow,” Schiano said, when told of the tweet. “That’s pretty cool, right? … That is pretty much being a prophet.”