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Everyone knows the protocol whenever a no-hit baseball game looks imminent. The same etiquette is in effect whenever someone is following, say, a 300 game in bowling.
Sometimes, the pursuit of perfection is so pure, precious and private that no one wants to jinx the performance with even the slightest mention of what’s flashing before your very eyes.
That’s why “perfect” is a word rarely used in sports because: 1) true perfection is impossible to achieve, even if you finish an entire season unbeaten; and 2) talking about a perfect season puts even more mental and emotional weight on top of an already heavy burden.
So please, wrestling gods, followers, teammates, coaches and rivals, forgive unbeaten Nebraska junior 157-pounder Jordan Burroughs for deciding to meet his pursuit of perfection head on, flat out and full bore.
Three months ago, Burroughs walked into the office of Mike Greenfield, the top assistant to Nebraska Head Wrestling Coach Mark Manning. A reigning Big 12 champion and the league’s “Most Outstanding Wrestler” in 2008, Burroughs saw a prominent place atop “Next Month’s Activities” on Greenfield’s white board, so he seized the opportunity.
Using a reddish, purple marker, Burroughs wrote this in the upper right-hand corner:
157-lb. National Champ
Big 12 Champ
“I’ve erased and changed that board four times, but I haven’t touched any of those predictions,” Greenfield said Monday. “When Jordan wrote them down, he said he wanted to look at them every day through nationals. He said he wrote them down to remind himself of his ultimate goal, but he also said he wanted me to look at those words every day, too.”
Burroughs Would Become NU’s First Unbeaten Wrestler Ever
Greenfield was only happy to oblige, and this week, as the bold statements remain in their rightful and respected place, Nebraska coaches and athletes are all envisioning the same thing happening at the 2009 NCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend in St. Louis – Burroughs becoming the Huskers’ first ever wrestler to go an entire season without losing.
Nebraska’s best single-season record in history is 36-1 by 190-pound NCAA champion Bill Scheer in 1984. Matt Lindland posted the same record nine years later, but the nation’s top-seed at 167 pounds was upset in the opening round and did not place in the 1993 NCAA meet.
In 2002, Bryan Snyder, Nebraska’s four-time All-American and two-time finalist, finished second in the NCAA with a 33-1 record at 157. He never won a national title either.
You’d think the past would be enough to tone down, or at least moderate, any Husker wrestler’s sense of great expectations. But then, Jordan Burroughs, 30-0 and looking squarely at 35-0 (not 36-0) if he can successfully continue his relentless pursuit of perfection, isn’t just any Husker.
That’s why we asked Vince Jones, his senior teammate and fellow Big 12 champion at 184, how much Burroughs enjoys flying in the face of conventional, psychological wisdom.
“Jordan never hides from a challenge, so he talks about going unbeaten every day,” said Jones, who came to Lincoln from Winslow Township High School in Sicklerville, N.J., setting the stage for Burroughs to follow in his footsteps a year later.
Here’s the real kicker.
“Jordan talks about going unbeaten every day because he’s the one who brings the subject up every single day,” Jones said.
Brester: Burroughs Primed Physically, Ready Mentally
A prominent teammate can only wince at the very thought of such an extraordinarily vocal approach. Fellow junior and 197-pound Big 12 champion Craig Brester, the conference’s 2009 “Most Outstanding Wrestler” and the sport’s reigning National Wrestler of the Week, admits he’d be “kind of superstitious” on being unbeaten and striving to stay there.
“A lot of guys wouldn’t want to talk about it, but Jordan’s got it all going, physically and mentally,” Brester said. “He knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t afraid to discuss it.”
Maybe Burroughs isn’t afraid because he’s doing everything a wrestler can do to stay motivated and focused. After setting his goal to achieve an unbeaten season, “Jordan is working his butt off to meet that goal,” Brester said. “He’s the perfect example of how to meet a challenge head on. I mean, it’s great to be wrestling side-by-side with someone who can make the kind of history he expects to make this weekend.”
Expect is a key word for Burroughs, who insists he loves “having that load of an unbeaten season” on his muscular shoulders.
“I love being a leader on this team,” he said. “I love having guys on this team look up to me, and I love having the responsibility to the set the tone for everyone else. Whenever I feel myself getting nervous or know the other guys are getting nervous, I put my nerves in the back seat, so I can get us going, and we can have the confidence to make a real run against anyone.”
Burroughs didn’t specify who “anyone” includes, but you get the idea that he means making a run against top-ranked Iowa, the favorite in this week’s NCAA Championships, just as much as he means making a run against Big 12 co-champion Iowa State.
“Our goal, from the beginning of the season, was to win nationals,” Burroughs said. “I motivate myself to go unbeaten because I want my teammates to enjoy this journey as much as I am. I love the pressure from my own team as much as I love the pressure from the outside. I want us all to go out and wrestle as aggressively as we can, so we have the best chance to win.”
Hard Working and Blue Collar with an Aggressive Mindset
Burroughs and Brester define a Nebraska program that prides itself on being “hard working” and “blue collar” and is rapidly developing the aggressive mindset of a champion.
“A lot of guys have tried to slow me down this year, and I’ve learned you just can’t stand around and let that happen,” Burroughs said. “That’s why it was important for me to put my goals in writing – to keep them in front of me – and everyone else – every single day.”
This weekend, Burroughs has a six-point checklist in his quest to stay perfect:
ü Be the aggressor.
ü Set the tone for the match.
ü Push the pace.
ü Score early.
ü Build a lead.
ü Keep scoring as often as possible.
A junior majoring in sociology, Jordan Burroughs admits his push for personal perfection is somewhat selfish. “I would love to do something that’s never been done and become an icon for this program, so people might remember me for years to come,” he said. “But really, the bottom line for making that happen is more for the benefit of the team than my own.”
Last December, Burroughs rifled through the media guide while wondering what Nebraska wrestlers had gone unbeaten in the past. When he didn’t find any, he thought establishing an ultra-aggressive personal goal would help “set the tone” for any and all team goals.
“I’m just competitive,” Burroughs said. “Whether it’s wrestling or football, a video game or bowling, I just don’t like to lose – in anything. I don’t know what means more . . . enjoying winning or hating losing. For me, it’s hard to decide the difference between the two.”
Manning: Burroughs is a Man on a Mission
That’s why his head coach thinks Burroughs is the right man to write a new chapter in Husker history this weekend. “There are no records of us having an unbeaten wrestler,” Manning said. “Someone’s going to do it, so it might as well be Jordan Burroughs . . . that’s how I look at it. He’s embracing the challenge, but staying pretty relaxed by meeting it head on. He knows it’s difficult to do, but he also knows he’s capable of doing it. He’s a man on a mission right now.”
“I’d love to be in Jordan’s position,” said senior Brandon Browne, the Huskers’ 174-pound Big 12 champion. “He’s one of the hardest workers on our team, and he’s always trying to get that extra little edge. To go unbeaten this far in Division I has just made him all that much more confident. He’s riding as high as he can be right now, and I don’t see anyone stopping him.”
Browne sees Burroughs as more confident than cocky and would do well to borrow an old line from Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean to explain why. Ol’ Diz once said: “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it”, and that makes sense when Browne describes his support for Burroughs.
“I mean, one guy slowed him down in January, but Jordan has just been dominating ever since,” Browne pointed out. “He’s had major decisions against some of the top guys in the country. He’s even beaten the guy who won his weight class last year. I have no worries about whether Jordan can do it because he’s already done it.”
Burroughs doesn’t mind talking about doing it again . . . when the result will mean more than ever and will determine if history indeed will be served.
“It’s all about digging deep and not letting your mind convince your body to slow down,” Burroughs said. “My parents have always stressed to do the very best you can every single time you compete. I know my coaches and my teammates are depending on me, and I can’t let them down. They’re the reasons I work so hard and try to be so aggressive.
“We’ve all been taught to go out and give everything we have every single match. When you do that, winning takes care of itself. And when you give everything, you can handle anything . . . even losing.”