Olympic Champion Jordan Burroughs appreciates his mom, Janice, and his dad, LeRoy Buroughs.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

The ‘Easy’ Recruitment of Jordan Burroughs

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

(First of a 3-Part Series)

Bear Bryant remembers how much he loved to recruit because he knew he was always at his best. When Alabama’s legendary football coach reached a point where traveling and recruiting ceased to be fun and didn’t appeal to him anymore, The Bear faded into his own historical shadow. Make no mistake. Recruiting is an art, and it’s a science. It’s a labor of love and a never-ending process that reflects the difference between getting good athletes and great athletes. Take that equation to its highest point, recruiting can even be the difference between signing a national champion and a world champion.

Jordan Burroughs won just one state wrestling championship at Winslow Township High School in Sicklerville, N.J. He was a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Nebraska. Last summer, he became a two-time world champion, winning the 163-pound division in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2011, and then getting the bookend to that with another world title in 2013 in Budapest, Hungary. In between those two world championships, of course, is the 2012 Olympic gold medal Burroughs won in London.

1: Before Nebraska; 2: At Nebraska; 3: After Nebraska

To cover all that ground and more, The N-Sider is serving up a 3-part series to chronicle Burroughs’ amazing journey from lightly recruited prep wrestler to worldwide fame. He arguably has become “The Face” of wrestling across the country and around the world. Part 1 in this series describes Burroughs before Nebraska. Part 2 documents his time at Nebraska. And Part 3 will give Huskers.com readers an inside look at Burroughs’ fast-moving life after Nebraska.

We begin this series with a surprising storyline – the world’s most prominent wrestler in 2013 was one of America’s least recruited wrestlers in high school. In fact, when he signed his national letter of intent with Nebraska in 2006, Burroughs, now 25, was barely a blip on the local or regional radar, let alone prominent nationally.

“When we received his signed letter of intent, lights didn’t go off, bells didn’t ring and there was no fireworks to celebrate his recruitment,” Mark Manning said. “The reaction was something like: ‘Oh, got another guy,’” Nebraska’s head wrestling coach recalled.

Burroughs Became First Olympic Wrestler to Cash In

What? Come again? Are you telling us that when Burroughs won his London gold to become the first Olympian to claim the $250,000 prize from the Living the Dream Medal Fund (a program designed to support U.S. Wrestling), he went straight to the top after a rather pedestrian prep career?

Not exactly, but Manning will answer that question with complete honesty. “It was one of the easiest recruitments I’ve ever done at Nebraska,” he said, “because I just had to go out to New Jersey, and it was a done deal. Recruiting Vince was a lot tougher than recruiting Jordan.”

The Huskers’ recruitments of Vince Jones and Jordan Burroughs in back-to-back years from the same high school are inextricably linked. Growing up, their families lived next door to each other when Vince was 6 and Jordan was 5. The two families are best friends and still live next door to each other. Vince, a two-time All-American at Nebraska, is now an elementary school teacher in New Jersey. Jordan, with the help and the love of his wife, the former Lauren Mariacher, work together on the businesses that have emerged from his growing international presence.

Vince Jones: Fellow Husker Best Man in His Wedding

Vince Jones was more than Jordan Burroughs’ best friend growing up and the Best Man in his wedding last summer. He was also the domino that pushed Burroughs to Lincoln. Vince was heavily recruited. Penn State, Purdue, North Carolina, Rutgers and Maryland all sought his signature, based on his junior national performances in Fargo, N.D.

Jordan? Not so much. Indiana tried to recruit him and Rutgers seemed interested, but there was this certain gravitational pull to Lincoln. When your best buddy bleeds red and signs on, you want to follow him. “I still remember Vince’s dad saying: ‘You know, you’re going to be back here next year recruiting this guy?’” Robin Jones, Vince’s dad, told Manning that while pointing to Burroughs.

When that statement was made, Burroughs had finished his junior prep season as the New Jersey state runner-up at 119 pounds. The next season he won the state 135-pound title, but just barely, and few saw superstardom in his future with two exceptions – 1) his prep coach and 2) Manning, who will never forget what that prep coach told him after Burroughs signed his national letter of intent. He looked at Manning and said: “Coach, you’re getting a great one here. Do you see the sparkle in that kid’s eye? He’s going to do something special, very special … his best days are ahead.”

Near High School Graduation, Burroughs Emerges

How prophetic that was. Manning liked the optimism but made sure he communicated the cold, hard reality of what that would require once Burroughs arrived in Nebraska. The good news is Burroughs gave both coaches a preview of what was to come. In the spring of his senior year of high school, he upset an Oklahoma State-bound wrestler in a national tournament in Pittsburgh. “Jordan beat him by one point,” Manning recalled. “A year-and-a-half later, he beat that same kid, 25-7, and had 12 takedowns in the match against Okie State.”

There was a reason for that sparkle in Jordan’s eye, but we’ll wait for the collegiate component of this 3-part series to elaborate on the accomplishments. Meanwhile, understand that almost every high school kid that Manning recruits expresses his desire to be a conference champion and/or an All-American. “They all would like to be national champions,” Manning said. “But Jordan was different. His dad and his mom did a great job of raising him. He’s such a sincere, caring individual, and I think it comes from the humble means of his mom and dad. I told him how hard it was going to be to get where he wanted to go, and I liked the way he handled it and took that challenge on. He became a great college wrestler.”

And next month we will explain how all of that unfolded.

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