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Burroughs proved he is more than a slick wrestler

By Mike Finn

How does one measure toughness in a college wrestler? In a young man like Wisconsin’s defending NCAA champion Andrew Howe, it’s easy. All one has to do is look how bloodied the Badger’s face can get.

Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs defeated 2010 NCAA champ Andrew Howe for the Midlands championship

But in the case of Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs, toughness is something that is overlooked.

Just ask his coach Mark Manning.

“Sometimes people underestimate Jordan’s work ethic,” said Manning, who recruited the fifth-year senior from Sicklerville, N.J., and Winslow Township High School. “They see his talent but not his work ethic. He’s a mentally tough guy. Jordan is not a grinder type of wrestler. He’s a technician, but can be physical with his wrestling.”

And the Cornhusker proved it in the 165-pound Midlands title bout where Burroughs, the 2009 NCAA champion at 157 pounds, used two takedowns, plenty of riding time and a critical third-period reversal to beat Howe, the 2010 NCAA champ at 165 pounds, by a 10-7 margin in Evanston, Ill., Dec. 30.

For his efforts, Burroughs was named the Dan Gable Outstanding Wrestler for the 48th annual tournament on the campus of Northwestern University.

“Jordan has really improved on his mat wrestling,” said Manning after seeing the Husker compile a 2:17 riding-time advantage after holding down Howe the entire second period. “The match showed that he is a strong kid and has really improved there.”

Despite the fact that Burroughs won a bout that was prefaced with plenty there was a buzz around historic Welsh-Ryan Arena for two days, he was not ready to call this victory — the 117th in his Nebraska career against just 20 losses — a signature win.

“I’ve been in huge matches before,” said Burroughs who also finished third in the 2008 NCAAs. “This is the Midlands championship but I’ve been in NCAA championships before and hope to win another one in March.

“I’m really hungry for another national title. Being ranked second didn’t really sit well with me.

“Andrew Howe is a tough guy and deserved the No. 1 ranking after going undefeated and winning it last year.

“I’m happy I was able to beat him at this point of the year and know there are more things to work on.”

Burroughs has not lost a college match since beating former Illinois wrestler Mike Poeta for the 157-pound title at the 2009 NCAAs in St. Louis.

The reason that he was rated behind Howe — the two-time NCAA finalist who beat former Penn State wrestler Dan Vallimont for the 165-pound crown last March in Omaha — was because the Husker competed at a lighter weight in the past. He was forced to miss the second half of the 2009-10 season when he injured the PCL and MCL in his left knee in a bout with Central Michigan’s Steve Brown on Dec. 19, 2009.

“The rehab was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,” Burroughs said. “The easy part is wrestling and cutting weight. Practicing every day was tough. I’m back now and feel good and hopefully the coaches are proud of me.

“It was a long and tough rehab. I didn’t put on a pair of wrestling shoes for nearly six months. Coach Manning got me hooked up with a trainer named Jeff Webber, who was with me every day.

“I got a little impatient at times. I hoped to get back in half the time. I had to take my time and realize everything was going to take time.”

Speaking of time, Burroughs and Howe were expected to meet another time before the NCAA final as Nebraska is slated to visit Madison, Jan. 21.

“I know he’s going to go back there and work as hard as he can to beat me,” Burroughs. “I will do the same to work on a game plan to beat him again.”

As for Howe, a true junior who finished second to former Edinboro All-American Jarrod King in the 2009 NCAAs at 165 pounds, his coaches are not worried about this setback. They’re optimistic despite having trouble getting out from underneath Burroughs … and giving up a reversal about the time Howe appeared to be rallying against the Husker in the third period.

“I don’t think Andrew was deflated at all,” said Wisconsin assistant coach Donny Pritzlaff. “Even with all the mistakes he made, with three seconds left he miraculously could have gotten a takedown and tied the match.

“We’ll go out and wrestle hard and control ties. A couple times, there was too much space. When Andrew did attack, Burroughs got to his legs.

“It’s good because Burroughs doesn’t really know what kind of offense Andrew has. They also know how hard it will be to duplicate that again because Andrew is not going to change. We’re going to beat him in March,” Pritzlaff said.

“That weight class is pretty tough with those guys in it,” said Manning, who saw a similarity in the two. “(Howe’s) got the heart of a lion and Jordan does too.”

(Bryan Van Kley assisted in the preparation of this story.)

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