Success for N.J. Olympic wrestler didn’t come easy

When Winslow Township wrestling coach Bruce Stowell saw 98 pound freshman Jordan Burroughs walk into the first practice of the 2002 season, he admits he did not expect that he would one day be watching the “runt” compete for a gold medal in the Olympics.

Twenty-four year old Burroughs, a Sicklerville native, will compete in the 2012 London Olympics in the 74kg weight class for Freestyle Wrestling, but his early success came in South Jersey.

Burroughs is a “special young man,” said Stowell, who served as assistant coach during Burroughs’ career at Winslow Township High School. He was very quiet and small for a freshman but when he developed physically, Burroughs became a “dominant” wrestler, but still remained “reserved and not cocky.”

He grew up wrestling with the same group of kids from the time they were five and six-years-old. “There was no other sport,” explained Stowell. When Burroughs’ slightly older longtime teammate and friend Vince Jones won two state championships in wrestling, Stowell said he watched as Burroughs clearly set the same goal for himself — to win a state championship.

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In his junior year, Burroughs lost the state title by just minutes. Stowell said he does not know what Burroughs did over that summer, but when he came back in the fall, “there was a different look in his eye. He wasn’t going to lose again. He had to win.”

He didn’t.

Burroughs was a “different wrestler,” who dominated the entire season, finally winning his coveted state championship after a commanding season in 2006, Stowell said.

His success did not end at the high school level. Burroughs went on to nationwide success as a member of the University of Nebraska’s NCAA wrestling program. He won two NCAA championships in 2009 and 2011 as well as the Hodge Trophy in 2011, which is awarded to the outstanding wrestler of the year. Three weeks after his final college match, Burroughs won the 2011 World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey, which he followed up with a win in the 2011 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara.

He has not lost in two years, said Stowell. Every match he has seen, Burroughs is “in control of the mat.” In the last three or four years, he has shown himself to be “one of the best in the world.” He is “always battling” and continues to do what he has been doing — dominating the sport.

“I think he’s going to do it,” Stowell said of Burroughs’ Olympic bid. “He’s in phenomenal shape and has been training with the best,” so he is “set up for success.”

Stowell keeps in touch with Burroughs through text messages and Facebook, but knows that right now, “Jordan has bigger fish to fry.”

As Winslow’s current head coach, Stowell plans to get his team together to watch Burroughs Olympic performance and “show them how hard work can pay off.”

“Jordan’s the type of kid who won’t forget his roots,” so Stowell hopes to have Burroughs come back to the school and talk to the team after his schedule calms down. Winslow Township is a “lower to middle class school,” he explained. Though he said he has a “good young team,” Stowell hopes that seeing such a successful graduate will “open some eyes.” He would like to see some of his wrestlers set goals for themselves, like Burroughs has — wrestling, academic or otherwise.

Burroughs is hardly the same scrawny 98 pound kid who walked into the Winslow wrestling room in 2002, but Stowell said that despite the many changes in his body, he “still has the same baby face.”

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