LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) warms up before the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game against UCF, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Glendale, AZ. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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LSU’s Joe Burrow is probably never going to change the spelling of his name to Burreaux.
But Louisiana is growing on the Ohio native and Ohio State graduate transfer who has taken most of the drama out of LSU’s annual midsummer rite of hand-wringing over the quarterback position.
Burrow, whose arrival last summer prompted two LSU quarterbacks to transfer and created an undercurrent of grumbling in the locker room, begins his second season firmly entrenched, the unquestioned leader on a team that is solidly behind him.
He’ll probably never get used to the Louisiana heat — “I’m not sure anybody does,” he said — and still kind of views his adopted state with bemusement.
But he’s been forced to learn to cook and is washing his own clothes for the first time in his life. Even while at Ohio State, his mom, Robin, would drive the 70 miles from their home in Athens to Columbus for that chore.
“A little embarrassing,” he admits, even more so when, far away from home for the first time, he couldn’t figure out why his clothes wouldn’t dry.
On a visit to Baton Rouge, his dad, Jimmy, who recently retired as the longtime defensive coordinator at Ohio University, had to point out that perhaps cleaning the dryer’s lint trap would help. Joe didn’t know there was such a thing to clean.
Cooking was another forced necessity.
“I’m kind of a health nut,” he explained. “So when I first got here I was looking for a health food store. I Googled it … there’s none of those places down here. It’s fried seafood, fried chicken, fried catfish. I had to learn how to cook real quickly.
“But I learned how to eat crawfish,” he added. “So I’m set for the rest of my life.”
Not that it hasn’t been a culture shock.
“Louisiana, it’s just different from Ohio,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just different.”
But he pondered the question a little longer.
“Hurricane parties,” he said. “I found out that’s a thing.”
That was for “Barry,” which had to pass for Burrow’s bayou rite of passage that really wasn’t on his bucket list, but a hurricane that turned out to be, as he said, “very underwhelming.”
“Everybody was hyping it up on Twitter and on the news … and it was like a drizzle for four days.
“But friends were saying we’re going to a hurricane party and I was like, what do you mean? Isn’t it dangerous to go outside in hurricane? They’re like, no, we’re just going to a party. I’m like, Huh? All right, have fun. I did not go to the hurricane party.”
Mainly, though, through all the heat waves and storm parties, the odd accents in the huddle and the strange edibles showing up on his plate, Burrow got acclimated to his LSU team.
Now it’s far different than a year ago at this time when he was the outsider showing up on a team with a chronic quarterback question.
He basically kept his mouth shut.
“Last year I didn’t know if I was ever going to be a starting quarterback in college,” he said.
“At this time last year,” head coach Ed Orgeron said, “we didn’t have Joe. He was on the football team (but) we didn’t know who the quarterback was going to be. All I did was see him run sprints.”
But he won the starting job last August to start the season with a big win over Miami, still trying to win over his new teammates.
“Going into the Miami game, I could tell you I knew everybody on the team’s name, but I’d be lying to you,” he admitted.
That’s not the case now. Some even say it’s “Burrow’s Team.”
“I don’t really look at it like that,” Burrow said. “It’s not Coach O’s team, it’s not my team, it’s our team, and we want to be the best we can be.”
Maybe. But there’s no question who the leader is. A year later, when Burrow would call for voluntary summer practices, attendance was 100 percent. He always led by example, teammates say, but now it’s more vocal.
Opinions vary as to when the transformation occurred.
Burrow said he thinks maybe it was the Auburn victory “when I played really bad for three quarters and kind of turned it on in the fourth quarter” for a last-play 22-21 victory.
“When I walked in the locker room after my interviews, I kind of felt like, I’m here now and I’m ready to step into the leadership role,” he said.
Orgeron said he thinks maybe it was the 36-16 upset of Georgia — “A turnaround game for him that the team started believing, you know, the quarterback could win the big game.”
Burrow admits to “playing awful” in the 29-0 loss to Alabama, which gives him a kinship with recent LSU quarterbacks.
But he really turned it on over the season’s final four games, capped by his signature moment in the Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida.
He was dang near decapitated early in the game on a blind-side hit while in pursuit of what turned into a pick-six touchdown for UCF.
The play prompted a college rule change to outlaw those hits and Burrow was on the ground for several moments, finally staggering off with a nasty gash on his neck.
But he didn’t miss a series while completing 21 of 34 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns.
The tough-guy image was forever cemented with teammates and fans.
“Haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I hope that they knew I was tough already, but maybe that brought me to a new level. I was, like, just get up and let’s play football.”
But he does remember that All-American linebacker Devin White made it a point to hug after the game and tell what an inspiration his get-off-the-deck performance was.
In spirit, maybe it was one linebacker to another.
“If we let him, he would run into a brick wall no matter what it took, said Orgeron, who’s biggest problem last year was getting Burrow to slide to avoid contact. “He’s that tough … he has a linebacker mentality.”
Orgeron compares Burrow to his own former teammate at Northwestern State, former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, who he said had the same intangibles as a leader.
It’s not a classic tough-guy look. He has kind of a baby face that always looks ready to break out in a sneer but never quite gets past the devilish grin stage.
He’s a guy who favors Looney Tunes-printed socks (Road Runner is his favorite) but also dabbles in “astrophysics, quantum physics, neutron stars, binary star systems” more as a hobby than an academic discipline (he’s fascinated by a theory that there are “white holes” behind those “black holes” in space).
But on the football field, he’s a different animal.
“That’s something I pride myself in for sure,” he said. “If you’re playing football and you don’t have that mentality, then you’re in the wrong sport. It’s a violent game. If you don’t want to get hit, go play basketball or baseball.
“I told coaches I want more reverses so I can blind side some linebackers.”
He got to the sly grin stage.
“I may not be strong enough to hurt them, but I’m going to hit them.”