Peterson: Heisman Trophy front-runner Joe Burrow will be forever linked to Ames and that house on McKinley Drive
AMES, Ia. — A special house on McKinley Drive in Ames won’t be as famous as the Winterset birth place of John Wayne, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a place in our proud Iowa history.
On Saturday night, Joe Burrow, who lived there until he was 4 years old, is the heavy favorite to join Dubuque’s Jay Berwanger and Adel’s Nile Kinnick as the only Iowa-born Heisman Trophy winners.
Sure, it’s a stretch, claiming the fabulous LSU quarterback as one of our own after living among us for just four years.
But facts are facts.
The son of a former Ames High School football coach, Iowa State assistant football coach and Iowa Barnstormers assistant football coach is the odds-on favorite to become the 85th winner of the Heisman Trophy. Some predict it could be among the larger victory margins in history.
“It’s a big deal for all of us,” Ames High School football coach Bruce Vertanen said. “There’s now a lot of LSU football here.”
The Burrow-Austen Arnaud connection is real, too
Ames to LSU — yeah, it’s been quite a ride for the guy who went by Joey when he was a kid.
“He doesn’t remember anything about Ames; only what we’ve told him,” said Jim Burrow, Joe’s proud dad. “He went to Ames High School games when he was just a few days old when I was coaching. But ultimately, what he knows is what he’s been told. He was pretty young back then.”
That doesn’t mean Joe Burrow has exactly been forgotten in the town of 65,000. There’s actually a picture in the Vertanen home that proves Joey’s Ames existence.
“It’s sitting on a table of Joey and my daughter, hanging out when they were young,” Vertanen said. “Joe’s holding a football, and my daughter (Kelsie) is holding pom-pons. Joe’s going to end up winning the Heisman Trophy, and Kelsie was on the Iowa State dance team.”
That’s cool, and so’s this:
When Jimmy Burrow moved on to his Nebraska alma mater to staff, you know who bought the house in which the next Heisman Trophy winner once lived?
Yeah, those Arnauds.
“I was going into seventh grade at the time,” said Austen Arnaud, who would grow up to become a very good Iowa State quarterback. “I didn’t know Joey at the time, but I knew his brothers.
“I know that Joe’s grown up to be a great guy and a great quarterback. It’s great that he’s winning the Heisman.”
The road to LSU
Joe’s story has been out there all season — how Ohio State assistant Tom Herman (a former Iowa State offensive coordinator) called his boss, Urban Meyer, and suggested the former Athens, Ohio, high school star be given a scholarship ...
And how a hand injury early in his career moved him so far down the depth chart that he figured it’d be beneficial for his career to transfer ...
And how Matt Campbell-coached Iowa State was one of the schools he considered (emphasis on considered) ...
Until Kyle Kempt got an additional year from the NCAA. Before jumping to conclusions, remember this: There was no assurance Burrow was returning "home," even if the ruling went against Kempt ...
And thus ended up starring for College Football Playoff No. 1 LSU.
Matt Campbell tried to lure Joe Burrow to Toledo
“I was actually recruiting him from Day One,” Campbell told me. “I watched him play at the (Ohio) state championship game. I loved him, his character, and everything he stands for.”
Campbell was at Toledo back then. As good as his teams were, when you’ve lived most of your life in the state of Ohio, and Ohio State comes forth with a scholarship — sorry, Matt.
Joe and his mom, Robin, did come to Ames for a recruiting visit, however.
“Paul (Rhoads) offered Joe fairly early,” Jim Burrow said. “Mark Mangino came and watched Joe throw. Joe and Robin went to Ames for an unofficial visit, probably when he was a junior.”
Iowa State was on his radar again, during the time the school was trying to convince the NCAA to grant Kempt more eligibility.
“We were interested,” Jim Burrow said.
The Burrow-Ames High School connection that will never die
But with Kempt in the saddle, and LSU also among the schools wanting Burrow, all’s well that ends well.
It even worked out all right for Vertanen and his son, Sam, after Ames didn’t make the most recent Iowa high school football playoffs. Instead of sulking around the house, there was a road trip.
“We hopped in the car and drove to Tuscaloosa,” Vertanen said. “Very spur-of-the-moment. I gave Sam 30 minutes notice.”
They attended the Nov. 9 Alabama game — in which Burrow’s whale of a performance included completing 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns during LSU’s 46-41 victory.
“When I pulled into Tuscaloosa, I texted Jimmy and asked where they were tailgating,” Vertanen said. “Jimmy told us if (LSU) wins, to come on down to the tunnel after the game.”
They didn’t make it to the tunnel, but that’s all right.
“We got to spend a couple hours with the family before the game,” Vertanen said. “The connection so strong to this community is still very strong, even though his hometown is considered to be Athens, Ohio.”
People in Ames — they proudly tell that story a bit differently.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of five decades. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register.