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"Jordan Burroughs is our Ndamukong Suh. The experts say Suh may be the best all-time and a living legend. Well, Jordan has that same mindset and that same potential in wrestling." -- Nebraska Wrestling Coach Mark Manning
Nebraska hosts its first game Saturday as a member of the Legends Division in the Big Ten Conference, and do the Huskers ever have a legend worthy of his own Memorial Stadium roar whenever he's introduced.
The schedule calls for a timeout and a short video presentation sometime during the first quarter of Saturday's historic game against six-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State. Nebraska P.A. announcer Patrick Combs will direct fans' attention to the field and finish with his customary crowd cue: "Husker fans, please welcome your two-time NCAA national champion and 2011 Hodge Trophy winner and 2011 World Champion ... Jordan Burroughs!"
Talk about perfect timing to honor one of Nebraska's greatest athletes ever, an athlete that Mark Manning can't help but think will become a household name by the end of next summer's Olympic Games in London. Burroughs, Manning said, is an athlete destined for greatness, and even though his personal Twitter account is @alliseeisgold (all I see is gold), that's not all that glitters for this relentless energizer that's in wrestling for the love, not the glory.
"You know how Ndamukong Suh came to Nebraska from the West Coast (Portland, Oregon) and took college football by storm?" Manning asks. "Well, Jordan Burroughs came to Nebraska from the East Coast (Sicklerville, New Jersey) and took college wrestling by storm."
The most decorated defensive player in college football history, Suh redefined the mindset of an NFL rookie, and Burroughs seized that same aggressive mindset in his move to the top of world competition - an ascent accelerated by his training habits, competitive hunger and genuine humility.
Suh and Burroughs: Both Game-Changing Forces
"Ndamukong and Jordan are both game-changers," Manning said. "They used Nebraska's environment to grow, and, in the process, they developed such great discipline and accountability that they went straight to the highest levels of their sport. To perform to the absolute max like they have shocks everyone but Jordan and Ndamukong and those of us who are fortunate enough to be around them. They train to be the best. They think that way, and they compete that way - every day of the year."
Burroughs also lives that way, but still found the time to earn Nebraska's 2011 Heart and Soul Award that recognizes his consistent commitment to service and leadership. "Jordan was not only dominant on the mat, but equally impressive in the community," said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's associate athletic director for Life Skills. "He's a high-character guy who's truly committed to making a difference."
Manning is well aware that Nebraska already claims several Olympic gold medalists who competed as Huskers (Charlie Green, Donald Quarrie, Rulon Gardner, Jim Hartung, Scott Johnson, Penny Heyns and Curtis Tomasevicz). "But right now," Manning said, "it would be hard to find two better trademarks of Nebraska tradition than Jordan and Ndamukong. Suh brings a different style to the NFL, and Jordan brings a different style to international wrestling. The U.S. is usually the most aggressive country in wrestling, and right now, Jordan is the most aggressive U.S. wrestler internationally."
Burroughs' two unbeaten, NCAA national championship seasons enabled him to win the Hodge Trophy, wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman. For many, that would be the capstone to a career, but Burroughs' motor runs at the same jet-like speed as Suh's, and that means his heart burns to learn, and his mind makes him wrestle like his hair's always on fire. Consider this: Even though Burroughs is a reigning world champion that almost guarantees him a spot in the Olympics, he's the first to tell you that he sees gigantic room for personal improvement between the Pan American Games beginning Oct. 14 in Guadalajara, Mexico, to the Olympics beginning July 27, 2012 in London. A rookie at the world championships, Burroughs didn't turn one wrestler, and he got turned in a couple matches. Because he is so inexperienced internationally, all five of his world championship opponents took him down and scored points on him in Istanbul, Turkey, last month.
Still, he swept through the biggest day of his wrestling life like a combine thrashes corn. He beat a Ukrainean in the first round, the two-time defending world champion from Russia in the second round, a Venezuelan in the quarterfinals, a wrestler from Azerbaijan (the old Soviet Union) in the semifinals and an Iranian in the finals.
He's America's First World Champion in Five Years
"The world wrestling community couldn't believe what Jordan did so soon after college," Manning said. "He's the United States' first world champion in five years (since Iowa's Bill Zadick in 2006). Jordan is really tough, man. He had the toughest weight class in the NCAA, and he had the toughest weight class in the biggest world championships ever. There were 48 wrestlers in Jordan's weight in Turkey. People don't understand that sometimes, it's harder to win a world championship than it is an Olympic championship because there are only 20 guys in the Olympics."
Watching Burroughs win a title in his first time on the world stage "was absolutely amazing," said Bryan Snyder, Nebraska's assistant wrestling coach who leads Burroughs' daily training regimen. "He was so emotionally drained after upsetting (Denis) Tsargush (Russia's two-time defending world champ) in the second round, I didn't know if we could calm him down and then pump right back up for the quarterfinals 20 minutes later."
Burroughs knew the meat-grinding schedule of five matches in one whirlwind world championship day would be infinitely more grueling and more challenging than having to win five matches in three days in the NCAA, so he prepared himself accordingly. "Having Coach Manning and Coach Snyder there was definitely comforting and made me feel a lot more confident," Burroughs said. "Having them made me feel like I was training for another dual instead of a world championship."
With Manning and Snyder in his corner, Burroughs was so-laser focused that he didn't realize the magnitude of his accomplishment until he pushed his finals opponent out of bounds with 12 seconds left. "It was amazing, almost surreal," Burroughs said. "The clock goes by so slow. When I looked over and saw I was up by three points with 12 seconds left, I knew it was over. I knew he would have to do something spectacular to come back and win the match."
Certain Reality in Magnitude of the Accomplishment
The second the decision was official, Burroughs exhaled. "I tried to make it like any other tournament, but with all the excitement around me, it made me realize how important it was and the magnitude of the accomplishment," he said. "We hadn't had a world champion in the U.S. in five years, and we hadn't had someone win both the NCAA and a world championship in 12 years. It's a tough thing to do, and I'm definitely excited about it."
He's excited enough to do what Suh does - come back to Lincoln to train in the environment that made both what they are in the first place. "Winning a world championship is awesome," Burroughs said. "When some guys leave college, they go live and train somewhere else. I mean, I'm a Husker for life. Lincoln is my home now, and no one can convince me to leave. I love it here. Lincoln will always be my home."
Maybe Jordan Burroughs deserves more than a loud roar from Memorial Stadium when he's introduced Saturday night. Maybe this New Jersey transplant and Cornhusker convert deserves a real Ndamukong Suh-like standing ovation.
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