Randy York's N-Sider
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With apologies to Steven Covey, we've come up with seven compelling facts of a highly effective Jordan Burroughs, and we bring them to you because they're all rooted in habits that Covey holds so dear, including being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first and thinking win/win.
First, does anyone know how close Burroughs came to not having that chance for a second championship season? It's an intriguing story and explains why he believes "everything happens for a reason."
Second, there's no doubt that Burroughs is the most accomplished Husker collegiate wrestler ... ever ... another thing we'll explain in greater detail
Third, Burroughs had a three-stage encore in mind before the NCAA even handed him his school record second national championship medal last Saturday night in Philadelphia - 1) an immediate date in Cleveland's U.S. Open freestyle in early April; 2) a spot on the U.S. World Team at 163 pounds; and 3) an all-out run at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, followed by four more years of Lincoln-based training for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Fourth, if there's been a faster rise from relative obscurity to the NCAA gold medal stand than Burroughs, then Mark Manning needs your email or your phone number, so storylines can be compared.
Fifth, the coach who discovered Burroughs halfway across the country five years ago and developed him into a world-class talent is already harvesting the residual benefits in his 2011 recruiting class, not to mention future Huskers that will be committing to Big Ten Conference careers.
Sixth, Burroughs has the H-Factor - the habits, the hunger, the humility, the humanity and the humor - to handle a description he already knows is more fleeting than final.
Seventh, and last, for this discussion anyway, if W.I.N. (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) anoints anyone other than Burroughs as the winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy - wrestling's equivalent to football's Heisman Trophy and awarded annually to the nation's top amateur wrestler - we recommend the selection committee watch an instant replay from Quint Kessenich, the ESPN commentator who said Burroughs was the best athlete in the 2011 NCAA Championship Finals. Quint, we believe, is a smart guy.
Now that we've lobbied for the Dan Hodge Trophy, let's cover the seven game-changing facts that we submit, one by one, as evidence. Reader warning: This column is long, but it shows why we think a highly effective Jordan Burroughs deserves the Heisman Trophy of wrestling.
Fact 1: Burroughs Believes Everything Happens for a Reason
Wind the clock back to Dec. 19, 2009 - the day Burroughs thought the music died in his Husker wrestling career. He tore the PCL and the LCL in his left knee in the first period of his match against Central Michigan at the NU Coliseum. Amazingly, through sheer grit, dogged determination and passionate persistence, he finished the match all the way through overtime - his first loss in 45 matches and, many thought, the end to his collegiate career as we know it.
But wait, the week before, he wrestled in a Thursday night match at Minnesota but had to miss that Saturday's match at South Dakota State to attend his grandfather's funeral. If he had chosen to compete in Brookings, his collegiate career would have ended against Central Michigan. Yes, that one match was the difference that helped him meet the NCAA's medical redshirt percentage rule and give Burroughs hope for one more shining moment after months upon months of post-surgery rehabilitation.
"Crazy things worked out," Burroughs said. "That's why I believe everything happens for a reason. I feel so blessed for the opportunity I had. I'll be honest. Last year was a little bit down for me, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I fell hard, but I kept my faith in God, I kept my faith in my coaches' abilities and my own abilities, and I stepped up my training so much that my injured knee is now stronger than my right knee. I love college wrestling. It's a great sport, and I knew that if I was given another opportunity to bring home some hardware, I was not going to squander that opportunity."
Burroughs obviously follows the principles instilled by his parents - Leroy, a construction worker, and Janet, a pension processor. Even though their son was injured and unable to compete in the 2010 NCAA Championships in Omaha, they were still at the Qwest Center, supporting his teammates while Jordan, a reigning national champion, insisted on doing his part to help lay out mats with other non-varsity wrestlers.
That touching, but difficult scene was replaced last weekend by the biggest personal entourage ever to see Jordan Burroughs compete. He was in Philly, 25 minutes from his hometown of Sicklerville, N.J., and everyone close to him was there to cheer him on, including ex-Husker All-America teammate Vince Jones, who first blazed the Nebraska trail from Sicklerville and is now the head wrestling coach at their old high school - Winslow Township.
"Vince tells me he shows videos of me to help inspire athletes to give wrestling a try and show what you can do when you work hard," Burroughs said, understandably proud that James Green, a 157-pound recruit from Willingboro, N.J., is one of the 2011 recruits that was inspired by the Jordan Burroughs Story.
"Last weekend was an amazing feeling," Burroughs said. "To be able to wrestle in the biggest tournament in my life before so many of my friends and family was so exciting, it's hard to describe. It was meant to be. It all happened for a reason. In that year I rehabbed from the injury, I learned a lot about myself. I had to fight through complacency. I had to set my goals higher. I learned how important it is to do everything right, not just most things right and do them every day. Looking back, my injury turned out to be a blessing."
Fact 2: A 31-Year-Old All-American Was His Toughest Match
Now that Burroughs has gone where no other Husker has gone before, there is no debate about the most accomplished wrestler. I mean, until Burroughs did it live on Saturday night on ESPN, no Husker had ever won two individual national championships, let alone win them 730 days apart. Talk about timing. We need an addendum to True Grit's nomination for a 2011 Academy Award, starring Jordan Burroughs in a dramatic role. Who else has sandwiched a medical redshirt season for a destroyed left knee between a 35-0 junior season at 157 pounds and a 36-0 "second" senior season at 165 pounds? Come to think of it, True Grit doesn't do this accomplishment justice. Call it the wrestling version of Rocky, which was, after all, also filmed in Philadelphia. "Jordan truly is the most accomplished collegiate wrestler we've ever had here," said Manning, the head coach who recruited him.
"There's no doubt about that," said Bryan Snyder, Nebraska's first-year, 31-year-old assistant coach, who, before last weekend, many considered Nebraska's most accomplished wrestler. Snyder, after all, ranks No. 1 on Nebraska's all-time winning percentage chart (.925) and is the Huskers' only combined four-time conference champion and four-time All-American. In an absolutely amazing twist of fate, during this historic, record-breaking season, Snyder wrestled Burroughs nearly every day for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Snyder, Burroughs said, "was the toughest match I had all season. He wrestles hard, man. He's the only one who ever beat me all season. Like I said, everything happens for a reason. My injury and his return to our program were perfect timing. I feel lucky to have had a four-time All-American in my corner on a daily basis. He's helped my footwork and my technique. He's helped me stay hungry and stay humble. It's hard to express how blessed I felt having a head coach like Coach Manning and an assistant coach like Coach Snyder. They know everything it takes to be a champion, and if Coach Snyder could come back tomorrow and be eligible, even at 31, he could win a national championship. I'm serious when I say that."
For the daily tactical mentor, the respect is mutual. "Everyone always comments on what a great athlete Jordan is, and he is a great athlete," Snyder said. "But what I like most about him is the way he competes, every single day. People aren't aware of and don't see all the sweat, the blood, the tears and the daily grind he's gone through to become great. He deserves everything because he's earned everything. He does it right. He punches that clock with everything he has in him."
Before the NCAA Championship, out of respect for the monumental challenge, Snyder told us he would withhold his opinion about Burroughs becoming Nebraska's all-time best until his last tournament was history. "I never had any doubt, though, about Jordan," Snyder said. "He was dominant throughout the tournament, just like I expected him to be and just like he expected to be. There is absolutely no doubt now that Jordan deserves to be called the most accomplished wrestler we've ever had here. He envisioned all of this in his mind, and he proved it on the mat."
Fact 3: Philadelphia Was a Stepping Stone to London
You should know that as big as the NCAA meet was to cap his collegiate career, Burroughs decided months ago that the NCAA would be no more than his "stepping stone" to something bigger. "It's an amazing feeling to be a national champion, but my ultimate goal and my ultimate dream has always been to be an Olympic champion," Burroughs said. "People have told me not to put all my eggs in one basket and not to look at 2012 and 2016 as the only goals in my life. But I feel I'm at that point in my life where if I work as hard as I can and accomplish what I want to accomplish, no one can stop me. I have a lot of faith and a lot of ability and God willing, if I stay healthy, I can win an Olympic gold. I truly believe that the only one who can stop me is me. My biggest fear is failure. I've worked hard all my life, and I'm not ready to stop doing that. I am a wrestler, and I have been for 16 years. This is what I do. This is what I know best. This is my specialty. It is who I am, and I want to continue down this path at the highest level. I want to be an Olympic champion, and anything less than that will be a failure for me."
Fact 4: Burroughs Has That Certain Look in His Eye
Manning still remembers what he saw in Burroughs as a raw high school state champion and how fast he moved from obscurity to stardom once he listened to a stern lecture from his head coach. "Coach Manning is a great guy," Burroughs said. "I was not highly recruited, and he took a chance on me coming to Nebraska. He's always been in my corner, always known what I can do and always inspired me. Indiana is the only other school that offered me a scholarship. I'm not exactly sure what Coach saw in me that others didn't."
Manning loves fielding that question from the N-Sider. "I saw a real raw wrestler and a real raw athlete," he said, "but more than anything, Jordan just had that certain look in his eye that he wanted to be great. All he needed was the right environment to tap into everything he had in him. We just needed to teach him how to train, how to develop and all the aspects it takes to be a great athlete - the nutrition, the weightlifting, the workout partners, the technique, the instruction, the coaching. Once he understood what all that could do for him, you couldn't stop him. He had that look then, and he still has it now - the look of a champion.
"I saw him make a change his freshman year like I've never seen another athlete make at Nebraska," Manning said. "We were at the National Duals in the middle of January. Robert Sanders and Jordan were getting ready to wrestle off to see who would emerge as our starter. Robert was out warming up with the other guys, getting ready to wrestle. Jordan was sitting down on the bench with the non-starters just kicking it. I went over and said: 'Jordan, do you want to wrestle this match?' He said: 'Yes, coach.' I said: 'Jordan, here's the deal. You have to show me how much you want to wrestle, not tell me. If you use this year of eligibility, you only have three years of eligibility left.' I gave him a real stern talk about how he had to make the most of the opportunity we were prepared to give him. I kept telling him we weren't giving him anything, and he had to earn everything. If he didn't step up right then and there, Robert Sanders was going to wrestle the rest of the season, and Jordan was going to redshirt. From that moment on, he beat Robert to death and started cleaning up on everyone else. It was unbelievable how far and how fast he came.
"Even after very lopsided wins, he'd ask what else he needed to do to become great. We would go into great detail to tell him, and he just took it all in and never looked back. You never had to tell him anything more than once. He understood. It was crystal clear to him. I knew right then and there that when you have an athlete that young who cares that much and wants to be nothing but great, you have something very, very special. He's a great athlete, but an even greater competitor. He's like a Michael Jordan who wants to do all the little things as well as the big things or like a great quarterback who wants to learn everything it takes so he can control his emotion and never panic. I don't know anyone anywhere who made a transformation like Jordan did as a true freshman."
Fact 5: Burroughs Case Study Has Influenced Recruiting
The best thing about Jordan Burroughs is his complete lack of self-absorption, his character and candor, his discipline and dedication, his humility and humor all mixed together. "Having a national champion with all of those traits and characteristics has been a major factor in our recruiting," Manning said. "Great athletes are drawn to him because he's as funny as he is humble. They saw how there were three national champions in his weight class as a junior, but he still won and finished unbeaten. Recruits think it's awesome how easily he handles all that pressure. We do, too, and we want more wrestlers with his emotional makeup.
"It's like he had this big bulls-eye on him for the last three years, and he handled everything like a champ. Recruits love his personality. They love how calm and collected he is, how genuine and open he is. He's off the charts, yet so down-to-earth. I think when you put all that together, he becomes a recruiting magnet because he can break down barriers. Recruits see how hard he works and how great he is, and they can't help but think if they come to Nebraska and do what he's done and train like he has, they can do it, too."
Burroughs loves the idea of being so lightly recruited in high school, yet becoming a recruiting magnet in college. "It's an amazing feeling to be that guy that people actually look up to," he said. "I have to remind myself every day how lucky I am to be in this position and how blessed I am to influence recruiting. I am so grateful and so thankful, and I take it very seriously when I get the opportunity to explain why Lincoln is such a great city to live in and why this program is such a great family to be with every day.
"The difference between Nebraska and so many others," Burroughs said, "is our coaches are concerned about winning, but want us to establish a positive lifestyle. You don't have to be here long to understand that. When we're freshmen, they're preparing us for life after college. It's a winning tradition here. We produce champions, but we also produce young men who want to be the best on and off the mat."
For Burroughs, winning became a mantra - a focus he needed to lay the foundation in his never-ending pursuit of athletic excellence. "He wanted to win. He just needed someone to show him how," Manning said. "When I watched him in high school, I could see he had a real quiet determination. He didn't understand the minute aspects of being at the top level and winning the tough matches. But once he figured that out, he just blossomed and became one of the best wrestlers, if not the best wrestler, in the entire country."
Fact 6: H-Factor Describes One Incredible Journey
We swear it's true how the H-Factor - habits, hunger, humility, humanity and humor - came to describe the incredible journey that Jordan Burroughs has taken from Sicklerville, New Jersey, to Lincoln, Nebraska, and on to, perhaps, London, England, even Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Both Manning and Snyder, who work with Burroughs every day, kept using those words to paint the picture of what has become a true Nebraska wrestling icon - one that still has a galaxy to go before he reaches the kind of respect, attention and star power that ex-Husker Rulon Gardner commanded when he upset a Russian heavyweight that was considered the greatest Olympic wrestler of all-time.
Burroughs can't wait to reach that next level on wrestling's food chain - a grueling grind that has seen six Huskers win five Olympic medals over the past three Olympics, topped, of course, by Gardner's gold in 2000.
"Jordan has the hunger and the humility to be an Olympic champion, too," Snyder said.
"He has great habits and a great sense of humor," Manning added. "I've never seen anyone so calm under intense pressure. He's so easy going and so down-to-earth that people just love being around him."
Perhaps that look that Manning saw in Burroughs' eye has star-like quality. "For sure," Manning said. "Jordan has that unique ability to inspire people around him without saying a word. It's his personality."
Fact 7: He's in Wrestling for the Love, Not the Glory
If you're still wondering just who might win the Dan Hodge Trophy, the wrestling equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy, don't give it another thought because here's the good news: Burroughs' mindset and work ethic are based on climbing all the necessary steps that success demands. He isn't into an escalator ride to the top. If he wins the award, he would be honored, and if he doesn't, he will support whoever does.
This much is certain. The qualities his coaches use to describe Burroughs never go to his head.
"I know how to stay focused on the goal and keep my eyes on the prize," he said. "I admire and respect every opponent, and I'm in this for the love of the sport, not necessarily the money, the glory or the fame. We all wrestle for that love because beyond the wrestling community, there is a very low level of recognition."
According to Manning, Iowa-based Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, a respected online publication among national wrestling followers, will announce the Dan Hodge Trophy winner this spring.
Meanwhile, Burroughs says some of the greatest recognition he's earned came from a role-model source.
"I've met and talked to Tom Osborne," he said of Nebraska's athletic director. "I know how much he respects wrestling because he comes to a lot of our matches, and he's always telling me 'good job'."
For Burroughs, that simple phrase from a Hall-of-Fame coach is worth a roomful of trophies from anyone else.
"Unlike so many, Coach Osborne always knows what's going on," Burroughs said. "I have great respect for him and for his awareness of every sport we have at Nebraska. It just proves I came to the right place, and I'm truly humbled that some high school coaches are showing videos of me to inspire others who might decide to follow in my footsteps."
Jordan Burroughs has three tattoos on his body, and they all reflect his body of work. One says "Love", another "Hope" and the third "Faith".
"I wasn't among the best when I got here," Burroughs said, "but through love, hope and faith, I worked my way up. I know how temporary success can be. You never know what the future holds. All you can do is work as hard as you can every day and accept the results, and when you think about it, that's all anyone can do."
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Voices from Husker Nation
This is a great story about a true champion and a great competitor. Coach Manning saw what I saw when Jordan was just 5 years old. He was on our midget wrestling team for a year before I met his parents. We met at Penn State during the W.A.W.A tourney. It's funny because, we'd been on the same team for a year. But Leroy and I became like brothers and Jordan and Vince hit it off the moment they met. It was pretty funny because Vince was 75 pounds and Jordan was 45 pounds with rocks in his pockets. But from day one you could see the fire in his eye to be the best. Vince was a state champion his first year of wrestling. And Jordan wanted to wrestle him every day, whether at practice or in the front living room. They were always wrestling. And our road trips were so funny that my wife thought something was wrong with Jordan because he was singing an Eminim song "NINE INCH NAILS IN MY EYE LIDS". Vince finally had to tell her it was a song. Jordan and Vince never let the road trips be boring. And about Jordan being calm under fire, you are right. I remember when Jordan was wrestling in his first semifinal for the state championship for 8-year-olds, and he was getting a pep talk from his dad Leroy: "YOU GOT TO BE STRONG, YOU GOT TO BE TAUGHT, YOU GOT TO KEEP COMING AND DON'T EVER STOP!" And Jordan threw up a "W" sign with his fingers yelling, "WEST SIDE!" That really broke the tension, and Jordan went on to win his first state title. He is a pleasure to be around under any circumstance. Coach Manning and I still laugh at the time when he came to recruit Vince, and Jordan was sitting next to me on the fireplace, just a skinny little sophomore. I told Coach Manning he'd be back next year to recruit Jordan. He smirked and shook his head and understands why he has to hear that story every single time we visit. But look who's laughing now! Robin Jones Sr., Sicklerville, New Jersey
This was an amazing article. Jordan was very dominating in the national tourney, and winning the Hodge puts a lot more icing on the cake. It has been wonderful watching Jordan these past few years and plan to continue to follow him on his freestyle journey. Good Luck to Jordan. Ted Lyle, Beresford, South Dakota
I created both WIN magazine and the Dan Hodge Trophy. Great column on Jordan Burroughs. Mike Chapman, Waterloo, Iowa
Thanks for the great article. I was at the NCAA Tournament, and Jordan was the best wrestler there. He cut down the opposition with precision, and as they say, was "fast and furious". With his style, he will be hard to beat in freestyle. Keep up the great work! Yours in wrestling, Tom McCann, Head Wrestling Coach, Kearney, Nebraska
Your best article ever! I appreciate your efforts! Rick Henry, Head Wrestling Coach, Yutan Public Schools, Colon, Nebraska