Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs gives local kids something to shoot for

Next month at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Jordan Burroughs will attempt to become the first freestyle wrestler since 1992 to win back-to-back gold medals.

But on Monday afternoon at Morgan State University, the games seemed like an afterthought for him.


Burroughs, 28, spent hours working with dozens of city youths during a clinic and fundraiser for Beat the Streets – Baltimore, a program that provides "a positive environment that nurtures physical and mental development through wrestling, mentoring and tutoring programs," according to its website.

"I am a busy man at this point in time. I have two little ones; I have a wife at home, but I'm blessed to be able to do stuff like this. This is important," said Burroughs, who won two NCAA championships at University of Nebraska in 2009 and 2011 before winning gold in the 74-kg (163-pound) weight class in London in 2012. "It's easy to be selfish and focus on what you have to do and what you need to do to accomplish your goals and be like, 'I'll give back later,' but there's no better time than now."


Throughout the afternoon, Burroughs seemingly spent time with every kid in the room. He showed off his muscles to a group of 9 and 10-year-old girls, who were also curious to know why his ears looked so puffy.

He brought kids up to the front of the mat to show off their favorite wrestling moves. He taught kids how to play a game called "king of the ring," where two opponents square off and try to push the other out of the center circle of the wrestling mat.

He smiled for hundreds of photos and signed wrestling shoes.

Wherever Burroughs went around the two mats in the gym at Hill Field House, the room of kids followed.

"I've been going to wrestling camps for a long time, and this is one of the few technicians who has this charisma," said Cortez Hayes, who has been a wrestling coach for 22 years and head coach at DuVal High School in Lanham since 2009. "I think that actually brings people closer to him and for them to understand him. ... He's electrifying.

"It's almost like a superhero and the superhero comes to life and he's here. They can touch him and take pictures with him, and it's like, 'Wow.' It may not stick to them now, maybe down the road or next month when he's at the Olympic Games they will be like, 'Hey, I was here with him.' That sends a loud message."

Tyler Rendina, 19, who was a state place-winner at Arundel in 2014 and is now a rising sophomore wrestler at UMBC, was able to get a little more personal with Burroughs. Rendina was Burroughs' partner during the technique drilling sessions, in which Burroughs taught how to stand in a proper stance, which foot to lead with and how to lower your level before shooting and his world-famous double-leg takedown.

"It's a little surreal, a little weird. Yeah, I've drilled with top guys, but nobody of that caliber," Rendina said. "A lot of kids on my team grew up with Kyle Snyder, but now I get to say I drilled with Jordan Burroughs. It was cool. As a wrestler, it's nice knowing that you can succeed with stuff that you were taught in your first wrestling practice when you were young. ... I left work early and I came here."

For Burroughs, a four-time world champion whose Twitter handle (@alliseeisgold) perhaps best describes his competitive drive, this is the fourth time he's been to Baltimore to work with Lydell Henry, the executive director of Beat the Streets – Baltimore.

Henry said he continues to bring Burroughs to Baltimore because he is the perfect role model – a family man with positive values and a can-do attitude.

"Back in 2008, before he was the big superstar Jordan Burroughs, I reached out to him to do a clinic and he came to do it and no one came," Henry said. "We continued our relationship and he started to grow bigger and do more in the sport, so we convinced him to come back a few times. Whenever we can get him is a big thing, but right before the Olympics is huge. He enjoys it, working with kids. He really believes what we're doing and the influence we have on kids in Baltimore."

Burroughs, who was born in Sicklerville, N.J., can relate better than most to many of the kids who are new to the sport. Unlike many of the other world champions, he wasn't always a star. He won one state title in high school, was ranked No. 52 on a list of the best wrestlers in the country, and finished his freshman year at Nebraska with a 16-13 record.


In relation, Woodbine's Kyle Snyder went 179-0 in his three years in high school and was the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country, and has since won a world title and a NCAA title in his first two years of college at the Ohio State University.

"It's never too late to be great," said Burroughs, who went 111-6 in his last three years of college and won the Hodge Trophy in 2011, wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman. "I was telling some of these kids I spoke with last night, I think a lot of these young men and women in here have a beast within themselves that they haven't unleashed yet because they haven't reached that threshold of hard work and consistent effort every single day.

"They just need people who are encouraging, motivating, who are going to pour into them and make them believe that it's possible. And that's why I'm here. I'm here to tell them 15 years ago I was one of these kids. ... It's possible, and I think it's important they know that."

With the Olympics right around the corner, wrestling consumes Burroughs. He will leave for Rio de Janiero on Aug. 2, and will begin competition 12 days later, hoping to cement himself as one of the greatest wrestlers ever.

But Burroughs hopes to be more than just a wrestler when it's all said and done. He wants to use his platform to inspire people on and off the mat, and he knows coming to Baltimore with Beat the Streets might encourage others to push themselves to the limit.

"It's tough, man. The socioeconomic background that a lot of these young men and women come from, it's tough to be successful," he said. "There's not a lot of people in their lives that they can look up to, in terms of role models who have liberated themselves from the chains of just the things they have no control over, whether it's environment or financial status or being in an educational system that isn't the most helpful in terms of propelling them to their next stage of life."

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