CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow didn’t want to be a quarterback.
When the Bengals star signal-caller started out in football as a third-grader, he reasoned that since there wasn’t much passing at that level he’d get more action and contact as a running back or receiver.
“I didn’t pick quarterback,” Burrow said Thursday. “I got to my first pee-wee practice and the coach at the time, coach Sam Smathers — I still see him all the time when I go back home — he basically asked me if I wanted to be quarterback, and I said, ‘No, not really.’ But then he said ’Well, you’re gonna be quarterback. Too bad.’”
Smathers doesn’t specifically recall forcing Burrow to be the quarterback in his Wing-T offense, but he might have. It was a no-brainer, though, especially after he found out that little Joey was the son of Jimmy Burrow, who was the then-defensive coordinator under Frank Solich at Ohio University.
“We had a couple other kids who were bigger and could play the position, but the knowledge and football IQ I noticed in him at that age was pretty amazing,” said the 56-year-old Smathers, who lives across the street from the high school football field in Athens that has been renamed Joe Burrow Stadium. “Then I found out who his dad was. Coming from a football family like that, I can understand where he’s getting it.
“He could remember the plays, the timing came easy with him, then we found out he could throw the ball really well,” Smathers said. “That’s basically how it started — he had a good football IQ even in third grade.”
Good call. Burrow grew up to lead Athens High School — 2 1/2 hours east of Cincinnati — to a state championship game in 2014, throwing six touchdown passes in a 56-52 loss to Toledo Central Catholic. He won the Heisman Trophy and national championship at LSU before becoming the top overall pick in the 2020 draft. In his second NFL season, he’s got the Bengals in the Super Bowl.
Unlike brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, Super Bowl winners who were groomed by their father Archie to be quarterbacks from the time they could pick up a football, the 25-year-old Burrow started out wanting to play a position that required more grit and contact. He loved defense, too, playing cornerback in high school as much as his protective coach would allow.
After going down with a horrific knee injury in his rookie season with the Bengals, Burrow regained his stride his 2021. He broke franchise records in completing better than 70% of his passes in the regular season for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns. He made critical plays in Cincinnati’s three nail-biting playoff wins.
“Obviously I’m glad it worked out the way that it did,” Burrow said. “This is my career. I don’t know if I’d be an NFL wide receiver. That’s probably a pipe dream. But I can play quarterback pretty well.
“And I think my favorite part about playing quarterback, there’s great players at every position in the NFL but I think only a few really affect the game in a drastic way,” he said. “And I think quarterback is the one position on the field that can really affect the game on every single play. I like having the ball in my hands on every play and being able to win or lose with me.”
Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd said he’s glad Burrow found his way to quarterback, but he thinks the Cincinnati star probably would have made a serviceable wide receiver.
“Being the quarterback to me is being the best player on the field because they got to worry about the most stuff,” Boyd said. “They got to diagnose the most information, and they got to help people line up or tell them what to do when they have brains farts or not knowing what’s going on. So I applaud anybody for playing quarterback, but I do believe that Joe could pull the receiver (thing) off.”
NOTES: The Bengals practiced in the indoor bubble at the University of Cincinnati Thursday with nearly a full complement of players, according to a pool report. The only one who didn’t participate was tight end C.J. Uzomah, who has a knee injury. … Defensive end Cam Sample (groin), wide receiver Stanley Morgan (hamstring) and defensive lineman Josh Tupou (knee) all took part, according to the report. … The Bengals will arrive in Los Angeles on Tuesday ahead of the Feb. 13 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.