Offensive mindset leads to good start for Highlands wrestler Jrake Burford

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019 | 2:21 PM


In his first high school season on the mat last year, Highlands’ Jrake Burford turned in quality performance after quality performance as he was a key contributor to his team’s playoff appearance.

So far this season, Burford has continued that trend. He has three losses, and this past weekend at the Sharpsville Invitational, the 138-pound sophomore picked up five wins, with three of them coming via pin in 1 minute, 12 seconds or less.

“I was just staying on my offense and being aggressive,” Burford said. “I was just wrestling how I know how to wrestle.”

With his five victories, Burford helped the Golden Rams go 5-0 at the team invitational and come out on top with wins over Franklin, Sharpsville, Maplewood, West Middlesex and Brockway.

His first pin of the tournament came against Franklin when he decked sophomore Malik Carney in 1:12. His second pin came against Sharpsville when he finished off Wyatt Sternthal in 45 seconds. In their final match of the tournament, which was also one of their closest, Burford picked up another 45-second pin against Brockway’s Garrett Park as Highlands sealed a 36-27 win.

Throughout the weekend, Burford’s aggressive offensive approach paid off, and that mentality is something that’s been a long time coming.

“We’ve been waiting for 14 years for him to wrestle offensively, and he’s finally starting to figure it out,” Highlands coach Grant Walters said. “He’s finally getting it. So we’ll see what happens. He’s gotta stay offensive if he wants to win.”

Burford has started off his sophomore season with solid performances, but with those solid performances come learning experiences. Two of his losses came against Pine Richland’s Kelin Laffey, and the first time they met, Laffey pinned Burford in 1:18. The second time around, Burford learned from his mistakes and went the distance beore losing by a 10-6 decision. Laffey is 10-1 on the season.

The Highlands sophomore’s only other loss this season came against Conneaut Area’s Collin Hearn in a 4-2 decision. Walters knows that there are still areas Burford can improve on.

“We’re still not satisfied with the way he’s wrestling, and he’s not satisfied with the way he’s wrestling. He’s still choppy,” Walters said. “But he’s got a good start going, so hopefully he can end the season the same way.”

Along with Burford, the Golden Rams have wrestled as a complete team this year. This past weekend, Lukas Simpson and Chase D’Angelo also went undefeated, while Brock White, Evan Henry, Jeremiah Nelson, Bryan Randolph and Blake Clark all went 4-1.

Just two years ago, the Golden Rams went 3-11. Now, they have won 10 of their first 11 dual matches and are starting to fuel a confidence that is helping them perform on the mat.

“It feels great. It definitely feels really good,” Burford said. “Coming from when this program was nothing four or five years ago to last year making the playoffs for the first time in nine years, I think. Now, we’re starting off the season great.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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