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Joe Burrow And The Art Of Being A Teammate: 'I Knew Exactly What He Was Doing' 

(Left) LB Germaine Pratt, QB Joe Burrow and DT DJ Reader laugh during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, August 31, 2023.
(Left) LB Germaine Pratt, QB Joe Burrow and DT DJ Reader laugh during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, August 31, 2023.

Two weeks ago, he got Kwamie Lassiter II his first NFL catch in his hometown.

Last Sunday, after throwing Andrei Iosivas his first NFL touchdown, he sprinted as if he were jetted on a quarterback draw to make sure the rookie receiver got the ball.

Forget that Joe Burrow is rambling back to his Inspector Gadget self in the pocket, just the way they thought when they circled the Oct. 29 game in San Francisco that comes after this week's bye.

But the captain-in-the-corner-of-the-locker-room and rock-ribbed teammate has always been there.

"We were watching with a couple of family friends," says Nathan White of Sunday's 17-13 win over Seattle.  "After he threw the touchdown, they were saying, 'What is Joe doing?'  He was running to the official to go get the ball. I said that's that guy's first touchdown. He's going to get the ball for that guy. I knew exactly  what he was doing."

White, the Athens High School head coach who was the offensive coordinator of the offense Burrow commandeered to Ohio's scoring record, never saw him hand out a ball.  But he saw plenty acts of kindness.

"Joe loves his teammates. He knew not every guy got their name in the paper, but everybody on the team is invaluable. Our whole team was like that," White says. We had guys score 20, 30, 40 touchdowns in their career. Joe's running back had 100 himself. But when a guy who didn't score much had a chance to make a play, it was a huge thing for our kids. Those guys celebrated like it was one of the guys scoring his 40th.    It was an infectious thing. They wanted everybody to have success. You saw very simple things in high school."

One of those who had the big numbers, his old tight end Adam Luehrman, thinks Burrow's awareness and empathy has something to do with growing up in a college town. Ohio University takes up a huge chunk of Athens and turns the small Appalachian city into a quirky melting pot.

 "Almost all of our friends had parents who worked at the university to some extent," says Luehrman, who teamed with his 6-4 twin Ryan to form Burrow's devastating tandem.

"And there were kids like me whose parents worked in town or owned small businesses. Then you'd go just a few minutes outside town and it was a different part of the state. And at the high school, we saw all of it. There were a lot of international students whose parents were at the college. You experience a little bit of everything. He takes everything into account and has seen it all and you can attribute that to growing up in Athens, Ohio."

His own background contributed to it, too. His mother taught elementary school and his father was a lifetime college and pro coach on his last stop. Anybody could be over the house. A DB from inner-city Cincinnati. A math teacher from town. A linebacker from the wilds of Michigan. And they usually were.

"He wouldn't be afraid to throw it to anyone," Adam Luehrman says. "I'd have to be ready for the ball at all times. Even in practice. He may never throw it to you, but you still have to remember it's in the back of his head. You could run that play 100 times and there might be that one route or one play he'll go to a guy once. And it may not be in a practice, but in a game."

Scott Burson wrote the book on those formative years with Sam Smathers, Burrow's youth football coach, and the manuscript of "From Bulldog to Bengal," resonated with some of the same themes he saw play out the last couple of weeks.

It was not lost on Burson after the win in Arizona two weeks ago, when Burrow was asked about what he was wearing, he took time to point out his top had been designed by high school friend Micah Saltzman.

"You remember he wore the Sherpa jacket on the trip to the AFC championship game," says Burson of the first one in early 2022. "Micah's brother Zacciah played with Joe and Zacciah thought Micah was kind of like the little brother Joe never had. What has happened the last couple of weeks, it does sound kind of familiar."

Micah Saltzman, son of a Brooklyn native who settled in Athens after going to OU, is the owner of the streetwear fashion brand Live2Love and splits his time these days between Athens and his dad's big city.

Micah saw his orders skyrocket after that Kanas City weekend and no doubt the recent appearance in the desert footed by a Kid Cudi pair of shoes helped, too.

"But it's like Zacciah says," says Burson, quoting from the book. "If Joe didn't like it, he wouldn't have worn it."

That's the way Lassiter sees it, too. After Bengals head coach Zac Taylor revealed Burrow changed a called run into a run-pass option (RPO) on the last series in Arizona as they killed the clock, the debate was on if Burrow did it to get Lassiter the catch in his hometown against his father's team.

No, Burrow said.

Actually, he said, "No charity."

Lassiter agrees. Burrow read it and flipped it to him for two yards.

"I think he just saw the (run) alert. Went by his rules for real. No charity. That's what I'm talking about," Lassiter says.

"He asked me (later) if that was my first catch."

There's always a little mystique around Burow, anyway, so why not now? But there's no mystery about this. He's still the same teammate he was as a Bulldog and he shows it every night in the now famous Monday night X-Box games.

"We do it religiously," Adam Luehrman says. "About eight to 12 of us get together (via computer) every Monday night. We don't miss them. If he has a Monday night game, like against the Rams, we make it Tuesday night. We don't miss them. Most of us are from high school. It's a way of keeping in touch with each other and it gets pretty intense. Great friend until you get into one of those games."

Luehrman, who was a die-hard Bengals fan when he was catching touchdowns from Burrow for Sam Smathers, doesn't like to bother Burrow during the season. But a good teammate is a good teammate. In the rare time or two Luehrman has needed tickets, Burrow came through.

Just like he did for Iosivas.

"What an awesome moment," Nathan White says. "You score your first NFL touchdown and it's pretty cool your quarterback is kind of looking out for you and makes you realize how special of a moment it is. That's pretty neat."

Even if he's just going through his reads. But it sure looks familiar.

"He's still a good guy at the end of the day," Lassiter says. "A guy who wants to win. That's who you want to be around."