The congratulations have come pouring in for Joe Burrow, the Louisiana State University quarterback and Athens native who on Saturday earned the 2019 Heisman Trophy.
The award is given annually to college football’s top player. Burrow, a 2015 graduate of Athens High School, is the first Ohioan to win a Heisman since Columbus’ Troy Smith won in 2006.
Burrow referenced his hometown roots several times in his acceptance speech, saying that when he lifts the trophy, it is for Southeast Ohio.
Gov. Mike DeWine and other officials were quick to highlight Burrow’s achievement over the weekend.
“Congratulations to Athens County Ohio native Joe Burrow on winning the Heisman Trophy,” DeWine wrote on Facebook.
State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, who represents much of Athens County, posted a photo of him standing alongside Burrow at a high school game during one of the player’s many returns to the area.
“In an era of everyone fighting amongst us, you have managed to bring the whole region together as we rallied behind you,” Edwards wrote. “I have no doubt you will continue to make our area extremely proud.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, also congratulated Burrow but playfully lamented the trophy not going to two other finalists from Ohio State University.
“…and who knows,” Portman added, referring to next year’s NFL draft, “maybe Burrow ends up in Cincinnati?”
More formal recognition at the statehouse may be coming as it did when Burrow was in high school. Former legislators Debbie Phillips and Lou Gentile recognized him in 2015 for being named the previous year’s Gatorade Ohio Football Player of the Year and Ohio Mr. Football.
A spotlight on Appalachia
In his primetime speech, Burrow drew attention to the hardships of his native Appalachian Ohio community.
“Coming from Southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” the LSU senior said. “There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot and 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, too.”
Burrow actually understated the income inequality between his region and the country — in 2017, 30.7 percent of Athens County residents were living in poverty, compared to 12.3 percent of all Americans.
The household income in Athens County was $37,191 in 2017, compared to $61,372 for the whole country.
Burrow’s success and attention given to Appalachian poverty has led to a number of high-profile fundraisers in just the past few days. The biggest, started by fellow Athens native Will Drabold on Facebook, has raised more than $130,000 for the Athens County Food Pantry in just a day.