Three years ago, the oldest talent agency in the world merged with one of the hippest, creating William Morris Endeavor, a high-octane hybrid that represents actors, filmmakers, singers, musicians, writers, celebrities and athletes, including Tim Tebow and Serena Williams. One of its newest members, who's far from being a household name but certainly working on becoming one, is Jordan Burroughs, a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Tuesday night. He will share the spotlight with Kelsey Grammer, who won five Emmy Awards playing the same character on three different NBC sitcoms – Cheers, Wings and Frasier.
The glitz is good for Burroughs and the glamour great for a sport in dire need of exposure, but let’s not overlook the best part about the New Face of U.S. Wrestling with a gold medal around his neck, a flag draping his body and a worldwide audience wondering who else could be brazen enough to call his personal website All I See is Gold.
The best part of Burroughs burrowing his way into the cavalcade of American stars emerging from London is the ripple effect his success creates for his alma mater and the level of national attention that Nebraska is now commanding in a sport besides football.
Al Michaels, the "Do you believe in miracles?" voice from America’s 1980 Olympic hockey win over Russia, interviewed Burroughs last Saturday morning on NBC. Michaels mentioned how Burroughs grew up in New Jersey, competed for Nebraska and lived in Lincoln. “Since you’re going to be out of college for the next four years and not training in a college program, how are you going to be ready for Rio de Janeiro?”
‘I still live and train full-time in Lincoln, Nebraska’
The next 10 words of this interview are as golden for Nebraska as the previous night was for Burroughs. “I still live and train full time in Lincoln, Nebraska,” Burroughs told Michaels. “My head coach at Nebraska (there’s that word again), Mark Manning, has been my personal coach for the last two years, so I train a lot with the college guys and I’m back and forth between there and Colorado Springs whereZeke Jones and the national team trains. It’s a lot of training, and a lot different in technique, but it works for me.”
Manning appreciates Burroughs’ bullish belief in training in Lincoln, and Nebraska’s coach says most fans don’t understand how that can happen. “Jordan is not on our coaching staff,” Manning explained, “but he is funded by our 5013C, our Nebraska Wrestling Training Center, which is a non-profit organization. It’s designed specifically to serve our guys trying to make our World Team and our Olympic Team. Jordan trains daily with the guys on our team. A lot of people (including media) don’t understand that, but Lincoln is his home base.
“He does have to go to Colorado Springs during certain times of the year, but Lincoln is where he feels most comfortable and where he trains hardest,” Manning said. “He lifts weights in the morning and works out in the afternoons with our guys, so it’s important both ways. Our guys see his mentality and his work ethic every day, and they feed off of it. It’s pretty neat to have him in our gym.”
That gym was a dingy one when Burroughs was wearing Nebraska’s uniform, but the new Hendricks Complex is a gold standard in college wrestling now. The updated Hendricks, home to perhaps the world’s best wrestler, exponentially enhances recruiting. “It’s motivating for Jordan, and it’s motivating for all our athletes,” Manning said.
Burroughs Influenced Recruiting Before London
“Jordan was influencing our recruiting even before we went to London,” added Nebraska’s head wrestling coach and Olympic assistant, who hoisted his prize protégé into the air within seconds of his winning gold. A half-day later, Manning hopped a flight to Barcelona with his wife for a five-day vacation because he knew one of America’s newest heroes would be surrounded by his family. He would also be in demand for interviews, which would only reinforce the hot property Burroughs has become for his new agency.
“Jordan’s Olympic win is going to blow up into something so big, it’s hard to even imagine where it might take him,” Manning said. “He’s been at the tip of the iceberg, and now he’s on another journey. It’s the way we’ve planned it all along. I like a young man that wants a website that says all he sees is gold. He told everyone that goal had a 100 percent chance, and it wasn’t being cocky. It was being confident and driven every step of the way. It was never in conflict with what he was doing on a daily basis.
“He saw a goal, and he did everything humanly possible to reach that goal,” Manning said. “You know, when it comes right down to it, if you don’t think that way, you’re not going to win. This is his livelihood, and that’s why he thinks like LeBron James. LeBron didn’t go into Game 7 of the NBA Championship thinking he was going to win. He went into it knowing he was going to win.”
Manning isn’t the only one defending Burroughs’ bravado. Rulon Gardnerpraises Burroughs’ habits, hunger and honesty and sees his unique sense of humility. Gardner, of course, is another Nebraska graduate and arguably the last true “face of wrestling” who won an Olympic gold medal as a heavyweight 12 years ago
One Gold Medal Husker Raves about Another
Gardner upset Russian Aleksandr Karelin, who was seeking a fourth straight Olympic gold and is widely considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. Karelin went 13 years without a loss in international competition. It’s a winning streak that’s 10 years longer than Burroughs’ streak, but don’t bet the house that a Husker with his sense of purpose can’t see or achieve Olympic gold two or three more times.
A popular contestant on season 11of The Biggest Loser reality TV show, Gardner provided Olympic analysis for NBC. Even though he never mentioned Nebraska, the ex-Husker raved about Burroughs' burgeoning superstardom.
Burroughs “was dramatic from start to finish – he was powerful and explosive,” Gardner said. “With the cat-like skills that Jordan has, he can score in almost any position when he has to, when he wants to and when he needs to.”
Burroughs, in fact, may have more ability to score than any American wrestler ... ever. “The potential that he’s just starting to show is unlimited,” Gardner said. “For the sport of wrestling and for amateur wrestling in America, I think Jordan Burroughs is just going to be amazing, and I look forward to seeing it.”
Few, if any experts, thought Burroughs could adapt so quickly from college to freestyle wrestling, which feature completely different scoring, techniques and strategies. Yet within months Burroughs became a world champion and an Olympic champion because of his singular focus. Manning believes that people who think Burroughs was cocky with his All I See Is Gold website “have no idea why it was so strategic for him and why he felt he had to have that intense focus while competing in a completely different style.”
One Amazing Performer Describes Another’s
Gardner, the man with perhaps the greatest upset in Olympic history, is now an NBC “expert” analyst who was amazed by Burroughs’ performance. “It was astronomical,” he said, “because there are very few wrestlers that can make that quick of a transition. Most of them take a few years or one Olympic cycle to get through it, and Jordan jumped right in and right on the freestyle national team. He won the gold medal at the World Championship last year and the gold medal at the Olympics this year (not to mention two undefeated NCAA titles).”
Gardner said there are no words you can say other than ones he offered up in his analysis. “He’s a champion, he’s earned the right to be an Olympic gold medalist, and I just don’t see how anyone can question who he is,” Gardner said. “For me, we all decide what we have to do at the Olympic Games. He said it, he believed it and he did it.”
No wonder Jordan Burroughs has absolutely no desire to mess with a formula, a campus and “a home” that has worked for his own miracle on a mat. Manning and assistant coach Bryan Snydermake an aggressive visionary comfortable in his own skin. “Regardless of the country we’re in, they always make me feel like I’m home,” Burroughs said.
People forget that Indiana was the only other school besides Nebraska to offer Burroughs a wrestling scholarship, and Burroughs loves the idea that a lightly recruited athlete can become 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.
Life, Winning Get Same Attention in Lincoln
"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 the best wrestler in America and maybe even the best in the world."
Talk about the ripple effect Burroughs has on recruiting. “Lincoln is just an awesome place to live,” he said. “Our facilities are amazing. Our fans are amazing. I came here as a boy and became a man because of everything and everybody around me. When you wrestle for someone you trust, it’s a lot easier for you to compete.
“When I step out there on that mat, I know that Coach Manning has taught me everything I need to win, and he’s given me everything necessary to be at my best,” Burroughs said. “Nebraska is the best place in the world to become a man because Coach Manning doesn’t try to take away from what you already have or who you already are. He just complements what’s there and develops you up ... as a man and a wrestler.”