Story at a glance

  • Joe Burrow led LSU to a national championship win, but before he set foot on the field that night he had already delivered a bigger win to those struggling to put food on the table in his hometown in southeast Ohio.
  • In an acceptance speech for his Heisman trophy win a month ago, Burrow dedicated his achievement to those facing poverty and hunger in Athens County Ohio where he grew up and played high school football.
  • The speech inspired a former schoolmate to set up a donation page for the local food bank that has since gone viral and raised more than $500,000 in charitable donations.

Joe Burrow, Louisiana State University's (LSU) star quarterback, is being rightly celebrated for his commanding performance in the national championship game: 463 yards passing and five touchdowns in a 42-25 victory over Clemson. But for those who, like Burrow, have roots in poverty-stricken Athens County, Ohio, his most impressive stat may be the $508,102 he helped raise for the area’s food bank

When Burrow was awarded the Heisman Trophy last month, he teared up as he spoke of his hometown, where he arrived as a third grader, and the struggles of those who live there.  

Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area, and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. 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,” Burrow said that night. “You guys can be up here, too.”

Will Drabold, who graduated from Athens High a few years ahead of Burrow, told the New York Times that the speech “was like being struck by lightning.” Inspired by Burrow, Drabold took action: he created a Facebook page requesting donations to the Athens County Food Pantry that cited the Heisman winner’s speech. He kicked things off by putting in $50, with a goal of eventually reaching $1,000. 

In the following 24 hours, the page had raised $80,000. Now, a month later, donations total $508,102 — five times the food pantry’s annual budget. Another pantry in Baton Rouge, La., home of LSU, has also raised more than $60,000 since the speech.

The Athens County Food Pantry, which provides roughly 400 families with food each month, must now decide how best to use the huge influx of funds. “The financial impact is going to be enormous,” Bright said. “We want to make sure this money is used wisely,” Karin Bright, the pantry’s board president, told the Times.

The windfall could help the pantry add commercial freezer space that would allow it to store more meat, frozen fruit and vegetables; the pantry could also deepen its connections with the area’s social workers. 

But Burrow’s contribution to Athens County is not just in the outpouring of donations to the food pantry but in the pride its residents feel in his success and the example he set for the community’s youth.

Nathan White, Athens High School football coach and a former coach of Burrow’s told the Columbus Dispatch that he believes the hometown hero’s legacy will go beyond football.

“The fact that Joe is where he is and that he’s overcome some adversity along the way. A story of having goals and dreams and using that to drive to success — kids are going to hear that around here for a long time to come.”

Published on Jan 15, 2020