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Dayton’s Ibi Watson cheering for Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow

Dayton’s Ibi Watson drives to the basket against Saint Mary’s on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff
Dayton’s Ibi Watson drives to the basket against Saint Mary’s on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff

Watson, Burrow played basketball for two seasons together at Athens High

Everyone who has ever known Joe Burrow may be asked about him this week or next — if they haven’t already shared their memories of the LSU quarterback. The Heisman Trophy will be awarded Dec. 14 in New York City. Burrow, one of four finalists, is the big favorite.

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Dayton Flyers guard Ibi Watson, who played with Burrow for two seasons at Athens High School, took his turn talking about Burrow on Sunday after Dayton beat Saint Mary's 78-68 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Even though they play different sports in different states and haven't been teammates in more than five years, Watson and Burrow have stayed in touch and continue to follow each other's careers.

No. 1 LSU will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 28, and if No. 2 Ohio State beats No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl and the Tigers and Buckeyes meet in the national championship game, it will make for an interesting time in the Dayton locker room. Senior guard Trey Landers' brother Robert plays defensive tackle for the Buckeyes.

“I’m telling Trey all the time they’re going to beat Ohio State,” said Watson, raising his voice just a bit in hopes Landers would hear him. “I’m like LSU’s biggest fan right now. I’m just ready for them to win the national championship.”

Burrow’s a Watson fan, too. When Watson made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays with a dunk against Virginia Tech in November, Burrow shared a video of the dunk on Twitter.

“We still talk a lot,” Watson said. “We hung out last summer for about a week. I went back to Athens. I’m really excited for him. I’m happy to see him doing well. I hope he gets the Heisman.”

That’s almost a given at this point, and while it might have been hard for anyone in Athens or Columbus, where Burrow started his career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, to predict he would run away with the Heisman, everyone expected him to do big things.

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“He’s very competitive,” Watson said. “You could see it from the jump that he wants to win. He’s a competitor. He was just so much better than everyone mentally and physically in Southeast Ohio. People probably wondered if it would transfer at this level, but his confidence just takes him to the next level.

“They expected him to come in as a freshman (at Athens) and take over because he was that good. What’s going on right now, everyone who knows him has seen it going on his whole life. Now he’s getting the opportunity at LSU.”

Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Chase Young and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts are the other Heisman finalists.

Watson and Burrow starred for an Athens Bulldog team that finished 18-4 in the 2013-14 season. Watson, then a sophomore, made the All-Ohio Division II third team, averaging 17.0 points. Burrow, a junior, earned an All-Ohio special mention.

The next school year, Watson transferred to Pickerington Central because he felt it would be better for his basketball career, and Burrow guided the Athens football team to the state championship game, throwing six touchdown passes in a 56-52 loss to Toledo Central Catholic.

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Watson committed to Michigan in July 2015 prior to his senior year and played two seasons with the Wolverines. He transferred to Dayton in April 2018, sat out last season and has emerged this season as the top reserve for the No. 14 Flyers (7-1) and one of their best 3-point shooters. He's averaging 9.1 points while shooting 45.7 percent (16 of 35) from long range.

Like Burrow, Watson’s long journey to the national stage began in Athens, and it remains a special place for him.

“I loved my time in Athens,” Watson said. “The people there are so incredible, just accepting of everybody. It’s a very unique place. I enjoyed it a lot there. Obviously, hanging out with (Burrow) and some of the guys in his class and my class, we all had a really good relationship, and we still stay in touch. It was great.​”

SATURDAY’S GAME

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