Like most Americans, Joe Burrow has been doing his best while trying to ride out the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the interim, he's once again doing good things for his hometown while sheltering in Athens, Ohio, for the past month.
And more than ever, he sounds like a guy who's pretty comfortable with the thought of suiting up for a certain NFL team on the other side of the state.
Burrow, the 23-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner expected to go to the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 1 pick when the NFL draft begins Thursday night, is currently doing his best to make the most of grim circumstances.
"A lot of Skype meetings," Burrow told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday when asked to describe what's been the strangest of pre-draft processes. "In some ways it's been less distracting after this quarantine hit.
"I've really been able to focus on my body – weight training and speed training and throwing. I haven't missed any days flying across the country meeting with a franchise. So it's been interesting, but in some ways very good for me."
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COVID-19 prevented Burrow from flashing his NFL-ready attributes after LSU's pro day was canceled. He and many of his national champion teammates opted not to work out at the NFL scouting combine, citing a need to recharge after the Tigers played into mid-January before vanquishing Clemson.
Now? Burrow says he just looks for "whatever patch of grass I can find around town" to throw on before retreating into his basement to play video games.
"Super crazy," he admitted. "Super weird."
But he also acknowledges it wouldn't be crazy or weird to play for the lowly Bengals (2-14 last season), who are based roughly two hours and 15 minutes from Burrow's doorstep in Athens, which is in the southeastern portion of Ohio.
With ample time to consider his future, he's even pondered how he'd win over a veteran locker room, something he did with ease at Baton Rouge, according to his LSU teammates – while often relying on a less-is-more approach.
“He wasn't a big talker," Tigers linebacker Patrick Queen, a Round 1-caliber prospect himself, said of Burrow at the combine. "Joe has a confidence and a swagger that every team should want.”
Still, Burrow is well aware that winning over professionals won't be the same as as earning respect from college teammates.
"I was able to pull it off going from Ohio State to LSU," said Burrow, who transferred in 2018 after three years in Columbus. "But that was different – I was older than most guys, for the most part, at LSU. Going into an NFL locker room, I think the best approach is finding a veteran that's been there – for eight, 10, 12 years, however many it was – and kinda sticking with him and learning how he has been able to have a successful career and continue to be a leader for all those years.
"And then just continue my hard work and preparation and make sure everyone knows that I've put in the work to be able to do my job successfully."
It's pretty much the same formula he used in college, biding his time with the Buckeyes for a starting job that never came before taking the reins at LSU for two seasons, including the unforgettable 2019 campaign.
Burrow knows he'll have to prove himself anew, and if that means redshirting behind Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, who remains on the Bengals roster as he heads into his 10th season, he'll look to maximize the situation.
"I think the goal should always be to be a starting quarterback," said Burrow. "But there's also a big advantage if you're able to sit behind a guy who's done it for so long that you can learn how to be an NFL quarterback – learn how to prepare, learn how to watch tape like a pro.
"Whatever franchise picks me, I'm gonna do what they ask. If they need me to hold a clipboard for the first two years, I'll do it. If they need me to come in and start right away, I'll be the best player I can be."
Naturally, after being the best player in college football last year, throwing a single-season record 60 touchdown passes, he would prefer to maintain his momentum.
"I'm gonna work as hard as I can to continue this roll that I've been on for the last several games and last year and a half," said Burrow.
Notably, he's found a way to to extend his community service momentum in Athens during the pandemic.
Partnering with Lowe’s, the NFL's official home improvement sponsor, Burrow has been doing video calls with local store employees who continue to show up for work.
"Any time that I can give back to my hometown – that's given me so much to me – I'm gonna jump on that opportunity," said Burrow. "I'm super excited to do it."
He used his Heisman acceptance speech in December as a vehicle to draw attention to the poverty-stricken region. Donations subsequently flowed in from across the country, one Facebook campaign funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to an area food bank.
For now, Burrow is spreading good vibes ... and promising to host those Lowe's associates at one of his NFL games, whether it's up the road in Cincinnati or elsewhere.
"The people that I talked to really brightened my day," said Burrow. "They all had stories of watching me in high school and watching me at LSU, and most of them told me how much I mean to the community, so that really brightened my day.
"And I hope that with me inviting them to one of my games this year and talking to them on the phone for a couple minutes, I hope it brightened their day as well."
Being an Athens champion will be a passion project for Burrow no matter where he plays in the NFL. He's already thought about making donations to nearby schools, but acknowledged playing in Cincinnati will make it easier to host football camps and potentially stage other benefits once the COVID-19 quarantine finally concludes.
Said Burrow: "I think what's really impactful is when I get to spend time with people from the area."
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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