Jersey Boys Return

Updated: March 16, 2011

By Mike Finn

Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs, NC State’s Darrion Caldwell and Michigan’s Kellen Russell are not just competing for national championships this weekend in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.

This year’s NCAA is also a homecoming for each wrestler who grew up across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in nearby New Jersey.

And all three are returning to the nationals after sitting out last the 2009-10 campaign to overcome injuries.

“It was pretty humbling, one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever been through,” said Burroughs, a

Nebraska's Jordon Burroughs, a native of Sicklerville, N.J., won the 2009 championship at 157 pounds

native of Sicklerville, N.J. who won the 157-pound championship in St. Louis but could not compete last March in Omaha after sustaining a regular-season knee injury in December 2009. “Going from 2009 when I had my hand raised, to (last year) being in Nebraska where I helped set up the stage for the nationals, that was humbling for me.”

Burroughs has since moved up to 165 pounds and is seeded No. 1 for the NCAAs after going 31-0 in the regular season. He also has the fire he admitted he lost after earning his second All-American honor in 2009.

“At times after I won my national title until I was injured, I got complacent with my career,” he said. “I had accomplished my ultimate goal and I was thinking, ‘What’s next?’ I kind of forgot what it took to get to that place where I was before when I was bent on success.

“This year I had a couple doubts. Someone who had gone though injuries before said I may not be as fast. I always kept my faith in my coaches, faith in God and my trainers who were doing everything possible to get me back to where I was.”

Caldwell, who grew up in Rahway, N.J., shocked the college wrestling world when he stunned 2008 Hodge Trophy winner Brent Metcalf from Iowa for the 149-pound championship.

That was the last time most college fans have seen the Wolfpack wrestler compete, especially after he suffered an off-season shoulder injury in September of 2009 and did not compete last year.

He said his mother recently helped him put his recent past in perspective with a cell phone text.

“It goes, ‘When God takes away something away from your grasp, he’s not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better. Concentrate on this sentence. The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.’ ” said Caldwell, who is 14-0 this season.

NC State's Darrion Caldwell returns to the NCAAs for the first time since shocking Iowa's Brent Metcalf in the 2009 finals

“I took that to heart. It made me realize that wrestling wasn’t taken away from me. It was a short term and bump in the road. I’m here to make it happen again because there will not be another shot. The accident could have been fatal. I’m just glad to be here.”

Russell, who is top-ranked at 141 pounds and 33-0 on the season, hails from High Bridge, N.J., and competed for historic Blair Academy. He later chose to compete for Michigan, where he earned visits to the NCAAs — earning one All-American honor in 2009 — as a true freshman and sophomore. But he chose to sit out last year to mend some injuries … and get an idea of what college coaches experience.

“Last year when I got my first surgery, it didn’t go as well as I thought it would,” said Russell, who recently won his third Big Ten championship for the Wolverines. “I really had to get back on the mat. It gave me a new angle on wrestling.

Michigan's Kellen Russell competed immediately for two years at Michigan after competing at Blair Academy in his native New Jersey.

“Before then I was just a wrestler, I was out there trying to make myself better. I also had a year to learn how frustrating coaching can be. But it was also a great learning experience for me to look back on what these kids were doing wrong and how I could relay it what I was doing wrong. It helped me get over hurdles that I have not been able to in the first two years.”