The worst three weeks of Jordan Burroughs’ life came in December 2009.
Burroughs, a former Nebraska wrestler, was in his first tournament of the season and was up against Justin Gaethje of Northern Colorado at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas. During that first match, his chin landed on Gaethje’s hip making his jaw and teeth crash together. He lost two molars and had to default out of the tournament to go get two emergency root canals.
The following week, his grandfather Leroy Burroughs died of cancer, and he had to miss a dual meet to attend the funeral in Jacksonville, Florida.
Burroughs returned to the mats a week later on Dec. 19, 2009.
“I was wrestling Steve Brown from Central Michigan when we got into a wild scramble,” Burroughs said. “Our legs were tangled up and boom, just like that, my season was over. Not only was I injured, but I lost.”
The doctors told him he had a torn LCL and PCL. He was done for the year. Burroughs went from being the best wrestler in the country to being off the mat for nine months.
Today, as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Burroughs is dedicated to sharing his story and passion with young wrestlers.
“This program is extremely important to me,” Burroughs said. “I really want to help them become successful.”
In July 2014, Burroughs began his first season as an assistant coach for the Nebraska wrestling team.
Burroughs said Nebraska wrestling coach Mark Manning and assistant coach Bryan Snyder have helped him accomplish his dreams of being a successful wrestler, and now he wants to return the favor and help the coaches produce champion wrestlers just as he was in 2009 and 2011 at Nebraska. In 2011, Burroughs completed his collegiate career with a second national title and claimed the Hodge Trophy Award. He went 36-0 as a senior at 165 pounds and also captured 2011 InterMat Wrestler-of-the-Year honors.
Burroughs said his tenure coaching at Nebraska is indefinite.
“I’ve made a complete commitment to coaching, and my goals are to win Big Ten titles, win National Championships and bring home All-Americans,” Burroughs said. “I hope we can actually realize those goals. It’s going to be tough, but I think we have the opportunity to put ourselves amongst the better teams in the country.”
In addition to claiming the 74-kilogram Olympic Gold Medal at the 2012 Games in London, Burroughs won a pair of FILA World Championships in 2011 and 2013. He’s also the three-time defending U.S. Open champion and two-time reigning World Cup champion. Burroughs said his goal is to bring his world-class experience to the table at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and help Husker wrestlers learn from his knowledge of the sport.
“As a college wrestler, I would say I was extremely hungry,” Burroughs said. “I really wanted to win; I wanted to solidify myself as one of the best wrestlers not only in this program, but also in the country.”
Burroughs said the team has a lot of guys who want to win just like he did when he was a collegiate athlete. Seniors James Green, Robert Kokesh, Jake Sueflohn and sophomore Tim Lambert namely all have been successful in their careers, he said.
“They’re not really satisfied with what they’ve accomplished in the past, so they are still setting out to set a name for themselves on a national level. I think they have the opportunity to do that this year,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs completed his college career at Nebraska with a record of 128-20, the fourth-winningest wrestler in Husker history. His job now is to try to replicate his success in these young men.
“I think coach Burroughs helps physically and mentally,” Kokesh said. “Sparing with him helps with my preparation for a match. He’s always calm and focused, and he relates that to the rest of the team.”
Burroughs has been off training for a couple months since the World Championships in September. He has taken the last two months off and will return to training in the New Year. He said he really gears up his training December through February.
“As my season starts up, these guys’ season is winding down, but I still train with Robert Kokesh, James Green and a few other guys on our team daily,” Burroughs said.
Kokesh said Burroughs helps him with a lot of his positioning, and the Olympian’s speed on the mat helps Kokesh get faster.
“For a guy that can beat me every single round, he pushes me to get better,” Kokesh said. “Having him here has changed the way I train.”
Burroughs said he did a lot more traveling and competing, but now he has had to retract his schedule to spend more time here as a coach in the wrestling room and more time with the guys the last couple months than he previously has in the last couple years.
“I’ve always lived (in Lincoln), I’ve just spent a lot less time here,” Burroughs said. “I was usually back and forth between here and the Olympic Training Center.”
Manning said he’s glad Burroughs stayed close to his roots in Husker wrestling.
“All his accomplishments speak volumes, not only for his achievements, but for his work ethic and his daily endeavors,” Manning said. “They are great traits for our guys to see as they grow in our program.”
Manning said Burroughs’ involvement in the program keeps his wrestlers aware of what needs to be done if they want to reach the highest possible point in international wrestling.
“(Burroughs) has changed our whole program,” Manning said. “To have a guy to come through here who reached the pinnacle of wrestling is huge on our guys because they see what it has taken for a wrestler to get there.”
Burroughs said he thinks coaching at Nebraska has helped him with the way he interacts with young men and his peers. He said coaching has helped see different positions he may not have seen as a wrestler.
After years of continuously being critiqued as a competitor, Burroughs said now he gets to critique others. Coaching has made him see some of the same weaknesses in the Huskers that he sees in himself. He said he could help himself improve as a wrestler by watching those guys.
“I would say the toughest part for me as being a competitor is that I expect guys to just naturally know what’s necessary to be the best,” Burroughs said. “There are sacrifices and commitments you have to make if you want to be successful and so I forget that these guys are 18-year-old kids that are coming from high school.”
Burroughs said the difference from him and his peak is that he’s 26 years old and has completely dedicated himself to the sport.
“I’m going to do everything right, and I’m going to live my lifestyle right. It’s helping these guys realize their potential is toughest part for me,” he said. “It’s about getting these guys to take care of everything outside of the wrestling room just so they can become better wrestlers.”
As a wrestler, Burroughs said his goal is to continue to win.
“I really want to make the Olympic team again in 2016,” Burroughs said. “I just want to continue to be successful. I’ve put a lot of work in to get this far in my career, and I’m ready to make the commitment to replicate that success over again.”
The 2015 World Wrestling Championships will be held in Las Vegas, which will be the first time they’re held on American soil since 2003. The Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. Burroughs said he is really excited about both of those opportunities.
Burroughs said in this day and age his wrestlers must get their degrees. He said he thinks, realistically, not everyone is going to win the Olympics and go on to wrestle and make a career out of it. He said his wrestlers have to recognize that their degree and the way they network in college is what is going to set up their employment and where they go after wrestling has passed them by.
“It’s extremely important,” Burroughs said. “Obviously, it’s not just about being successful on the mat. The philosophy we try to teach them is that we’re not just trying to develop you into good wrestlers. After the five years is up, you’ve got to go and take care of your family and establish a life for yourself.”
Burroughs said greatness is for fans to declare for an athlete. He said greatness is about wrestler’s recognition in the sport.
“It’s not a popularity contest; you have to earn the respect of wrestling fans,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs said his job now is to stay great and help the Nebraska wrestlers he’s coaching achieve greatness in their own way.
“I hold myself in high regard, but also I have high standards, not only for myself, but for wrestling as a whole,” Burroughs said. “For people to even consider you great you have to have done great things. Greatness is repeatedly putting yourself in tough positions and being able to consistently come out on top.”
Burroughs said he loves the sport and that it really takes courage and faith to be a wrestler.
“There’s no promise that you’ll win because the guy across from you could have worked harder than you have,” Burroughs said. “I love the one-on-one aspect. There’s no judging, no politics, no corruption. It’s just you step out on the opposite side of a guy and whoever has the most heart, whoever’s stronger, whoever’s trained the most is going to win.”
Burroughs said all his coaches from high school and up have been positive influences in his life, and he said he hopes to reflect their positive qualities onto the young men he now coaches.
“I just realize you have to create relationships with these young wrestlers,” Burroughs said. “The biggest thing for me is understanding their values and how I can help them become better wrestlers and better young men. I want to be a credible source in their lives that they can look to for more than just wrestling moves.”