Jordan Burroughs has reached the late stages of his remarkable wrestling career buoyed by what sounds like a clarity of purpose.
Ask the 30-year-old Olympic gold medalist (2012 London Games) what drives him these days, and you get an answer that leads you to believe he's pondered the question.
"Every single stage of life presents a different motivation or driving force," Burroughs told the Journal Star. "When I was young, it was recognition, financial security and success. Then it was (making) history. Now it's just trying to maximize the time I have left in the sport. It's enjoying the journey, staying 'present,' and really trying to have as much fun as possible."
A two-time NCAA champion at Nebraska, Burroughs plans to retire -- or at the very least, strongly consider it -- in 2020. He's obviously eyeing the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo. First things first, though. Critical battles precede 2020, including the Final X competition Saturday at the Devaney Sports Center. The best-of-3 finals tournament will decide spots on the 2019 world team.
Burroughs, a four-time world champion, will face Isaiah Martinez at 74 kg. Former Husker standout James Green, a two-time world medalist and four-time college All-American, will take on Ryan Deakin at 70 kg. Both Burroughs and Green are New Jersey natives but have called Lincoln home essentially since their college days. They're obviously proud alums and embrace the community.
"They're both thinking bigger than just themselves," says Nebraska coach Mark Manning, who trains the duo.
A married father of two, Burroughs speaks of the joy of getting to compete in Lincoln this week while still getting to kiss his children (son Beacon is 4, and daughter Ora turns 3 on Tuesday) good night. He understands he's still the U.S. wrestler that draws the most fans.
"I've realized finally that regardless of what happens the remainder of my career, I'm certified as a legend in the sport," Burroughs says. "That gives me peace because it's like, 'Listen, you've already done so much.' As a competitor, I naturally still want to win. If I don't go out there and win this weekend, I'll be extremely disappointed.
"But I think at this point of my career, you start to gain a little more perspective and are more thankful for what you have and what you've already experienced. The hunger remains, the motivation remains. But you start to be happier with where you are because you know it's not easy to do this for this long."
He feels blessed that he's avoided major injury and blessed to have the right people around him, including Manning, NU's head coach the past 18 seasons.
"We have an unspoken agreement," Burroughs says. "For him, it's like, 'Listen, you are very good at what you do, but you have a level within you that still no one in the world has, but we have to tap into it. Because if you allow it to lay dormant, you're going to squander the remaining time you have left in the sport.'"
Safe to say Manning isn't allowing Burroughs to coast.
"He wants to be the best ever," the coach says. "Last year, he got a bronze medal in the world championships. He was really eight seconds from winning another world title. So he got the bronze, which is great, but he's driven by winning the world title this year and the Olympic gold medal next year."
It's all coming down to the 13 months leading to the Tokyo Games. How intense is it?
"I tried to bury him last week," says Manning, referring to a particularly difficult set of workouts.
Burroughs' full focus is on Martinez, a two-time NCAA champion at Illinois, who favors a rugged approach on the mat.
"He does a lot of bullying out there," Burroughs says. "That's his style. He's a brute. He physically punishes his opponents. He has a high pace, and he's a pretty solid athlete as well."
Before last year's 2-0 Final X series triumph against Martinez, Burroughs had never faced the 24-year-old. It's an intriguing matchup in part because Burroughs doesn't characterize himself as a bully.
"I can be, but only when absolutely necessary," he says. "I don't allow myself to be bullied. That's kind of where our styles contrast. I think his approach is usually going out there and being so physical with his opponent that he kind of beats him into submission or forces him to back down -- none of the things that I intend to do or have ever done.
"I think that changes the game a little bit for him because he has to try to find a different approach."
Burroughs sounds extremely focused, determined to remain in the moment. He's at once at peace with his career and ready to wreak more havoc.
"There are obviously things I still want to do in the sport before I head off into the sunset," he says.
He's been a treasure for NU, the community and the entire state while toiling in a sport that often gets overlooked.
You probably won't catch Burroughs complaining about it. He's a man seemingly at peace with his legacy as a certified legend.
"I always want to give the fans something to be excited about, and give my family a journey that they'll never forget," he says.