Natrona Heights' Burford brothers are wrestling machines
Jrake and Aiden Burford are no strangers to the ASICS Kids Freestyle and Greco Roman Nationals.
The Natrona Heights residents have wrestled there several times before. They are comfortable with their surroundings and the atmosphere with some of the top youth competitors in the country.
They again will test their mettle when the three-day tournament kicks off June 28 in Atlanta, Ga.
“It's a lot of fun. You create lots of friends,” said Jrake, 14, a rising ninth-grade student at Highlands High School who will join the Golden Rams varsity squad this year. “It's always great competition and a good experience.”
“What's great about nationals is the chance to be an All-American,” said Aiden, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Grandview Elementary in Brackenridge.
“We meet a lot of people and have the chance to wrestle well.”
Aiden earned All-American status at nationals last year as he placed sixth in his division.
Jrake finished one win away from placing at the national tournament and earning an All-American spot.
“It's pretty nice to be able to wrestle and practice with (Jrake),” Aiden said.
“I like having him there with me. We cheer each other on.”
Jrake and Aiden, members of Bones Wrestling Club in Lower Burrell, have wrestled a lot of matches since their school season began in November.
Jrake is 32-7 this year in freestyle and Greco matches and 72-11 overall with his folkstyle (school) matches factored in.
Aiden is 39-2 in freestyle and Greco and 89-7 overall.
“With Jrake and Aiden, they are focused and doing their drills, but I want to make sure they are having fun,” said Grant Walters, the Highlands varsity wrestling head coach, an assistant coach with the Bones Wrestling Club and Jrake and Aiden's stepfather.
“They're young, and I don't want them to burn out. (Bones head coach) Steve Ansani and I know how to get them to practice at the level we expect.”
Pennsylvania youth wrestlers qualify for nationals by earning top place finishes at states or the Northeast Regional. A wrestler has to compete in both to be eligible.
Performances in previous seasons, including top results at nationals, and also help a wrestler punch his or her ticket.
Only about two dozen youth wrestlers from Pennsylvania get the opportunity to represent Team Pennsylvania at nationals.
Aiden is a three-time state champion in freestyle and Greco, and Jrake is a three-time state medalist in both.
This year, at the Pennsylvania freestyle and Greco state championships May 19 in Chambersburg, Jrake, competing in the Schoolboy 84 class, took third in freestyle and third in Greco.
Aiden won the Intermediate 65 championship at states and was third in freestyle.
Both will wrestle up in weight at nationals. Jrake will compete in the Schoolboy 91 division, and Aiden will be in the mix at Intermediate 70 pounds.
“We wrestle and practice all year round,” Jrake said. “With all the help from my coaches, I feel confident. Without having each other, we wouldn't be as good as we are. We're each other's practice partner. We make each other better.”
Jrake capped his school season in early March with a strong finish at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling junior high area and state championships.
Representing Highlands, Jrake finished as the 92-pound Area VII junior high runner-up and went 2-2 at states. Last year, he took third in the Area VII 82-pound bracket and compiled a 3-2 state mark.
Aiden didn't compete in the PJW youth postseason this year because of an injury, but he won the 2016 Area 7 title and took fourth at states in the 8-and-under, 65-pound division.
“Both Jrake and Aiden have done folkstyle wrestling all their lives,” Walters said. “Four years ago, they wanted to make a change and step their game up, so they added freestyle and Greco. Freestyle and Greco opens you up and makes you a better wrestler, and it did that for both Jrake and Aiden.
“That first year, Aiden won a state title in Greco, and Jrake placed second in freestyle at states. To go from not knowing a thing about freestyle and Greco three months prior to doing as well as they did at states says a lot about their abilities.”