The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

The SEC Blog: LSU's Burrow remembers where he came from

103 days ago
By Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: SEC

It was the biggest moment of Joe Burrow's life. The LSU quarterback had just won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player in college football, by the largest margin in history. All eyes were on him as he delivered an emotional acceptance speech on national television.

Burrow offered heartfelt thanks to so many people who helped him arrive at that moment, including a moving tribute to LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, but as he'd done so many times during his record-breaking season, the quarterback went above and beyond.

He used his moment in the sun to turn the spotlight away from himself toward a place and a subject more important than even the most prestigious individual trophy in sports - poverty in his hometown of Athens, Ohio.

About halfway through his moving seven minutes at the podium, Burrow remembered where he came from in an unforgettable way.

"Coming from southeast Ohio, it's a very impoverished area," he said. "The poverty rate is almost two times the national average, and there's so many people there that don't have a lot. I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here."

It was extraordinary enough that Burrow would use that time of personal triumph to acknowledge and encourage others less fortunate than himself, but what happened next may have been the true highlight in a season full of them. His words set in motion a chain of events that captured the power of Southeastern Conference athletics to make a difference in people's lives beyond the playing field.

Will Drabold heard Burrow's words, shed a few tears and went to work. An Athens native like Burrow who graduated from Athens High and Ohio University there, Drabold launched a Facebook fundraiser the next morning for the Athens County Food Pantry. That non-profit, all-volunteer organization has been providing supplemental and emergency food aid to Athens County residents in need since 1980.

And there is a need. Athens County has the highest rate of food insecurity - people not knowing where their next meal is coming from - in the entire state of Ohio.

As of midday Thursday, "Joe Burrow's Heisman Speech: Fundraiser for Athens County Food Pantry" - the effort inspired by Burrow and started by Drabold - had raised $453,295 from 12,703 people. National news outlets from the Washington Post to CBS News picked up the heartwarming story and spread the word.

"Who would have ever thought that little Athens County would be the beneficiary of such an outpouring of love and kindness and compassion," the Food Pantry's board president, Karin Bright, told CBS News.

That outpouring started because an outstanding football player who threw for more yards and touchdown passes in a single season than any other quarterback in SEC history, at the pinnacle of personal recognition, looked beyond himself. Burrow gave new meaning to the season of giving.

The day before the SEC Championship Game, before Burrow threw four touchdown passes in LSU's emphatic victory over Georgia, Orgeron had discussed the qualities that have made his quarterback both a special player and a special person.

"Joe's a silent leader," Orgeron said. "Joe won't scream. Joe won't holler. He brings a lot to our football team."

Burrow didn't scream or holler during his Heisman moment in the sun, but make no mistake. When it mattered most, his voice was heard.