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Jon Burns Up Close

Mark Palmer; RevWrestling Staff Writer

Name a state that’s known as a hotbed for high school wrestling. Among the usual suspects: Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Oklahoma. Chances are, the state of North Carolina didn’t immediately come to mind … unless you reside (or wrestle) in the Tar Heel State. One high school wrestler is doing his best to raise the profile of prep wrestling in North Carolina … while making a name for himself, too.

His name is Jon Burns, HSWrestling.Net’s second-ranked high school wrestler in the country at 145 pounds. In the past year, the senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh won the North Carolina state championship, as well as titles at the 2007 NHSCA Junior Nationals and at the 2007 Walsh Ironman tournament.

Video: Ben Jordan, OH v. Jon Burns, NC: Play Now | Play in Popup

It all started with the Twisters

Jon Burns grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago. His first introduction to sports was playing football.

“One of the coaches of the Harvey Twisters asked me to come out for wrestling after football season,? says Jon. (The Twisters are the Illinois-based wrestling club that launched the mat careers of a number of nationally-renowned wrestlers, including University of Iowa NCAA champs Joe and T.J. Williams.)

In fifth grade, Jon’s dad was transferred by Ford Motor Company to Georgia, where he continued the football-and-wrestling combination. In eighth grade, the Burns family moved again — this time to the Raleigh, North Carolina area. “My school didn’t have wrestling, so I went out for basketball,? according to Jon. “But I didn’t make the team.?

“I didn’t get to wrestle again ’til my freshman year at Cary High School.?

Despite the layoff, Jon didn’t lose a step on the wrestling mat. His freshman year at Cary, he compiled a 53-5 record, and placed third at the North Carolina state tournament.

As a sophomore, Jon transferred to Cardinal Gibbons … and had to sit out that season. In an article published by the Cary newspaper, Jon was quoted as saying, “It was real tough knowing I couldn’t wrestle that year. I went to the state tournament and I watched. I was kind of sad I wasn’t able to participate, but I continued to work hard so I would be able to make this year happen.?

“This year? refers to Jon Burns’ junior year, where he put away his football helmet for good and concentrated all his athletic efforts on wrestling. In his first year competing for Cardinal Gibbons, Jon racked up a perfect 65-0 season, and won the 140-pound 1-A/2-A North Carolina state wrestling championship in February 2007.

National recognition

How do you top a state title? Jon Burns found a way… by claiming the 140-pound crown at the 2007 NHSCA Junior National Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach in March.

The event is open to prep wrestlers in their junior year. The 2007 Junior Nationals attracted over 700 participants … including some of the top high school matmen in the country.

Jon’s weight class was no exception. In his first bout, he went up against two-time Pennsylvania state qualifier Adam Will, and got a 10-3 victory. In his next two matches, Jon scored two major decisions — a 14-4 win over Tanner Schaffer, a two-time Maryland state placewinner, and a 13-5 victory over Dan Clarke, a New Jersey All-American.

In the quarterfinals, Jon earned an 8-1 win over Austin Cordova, a state titleholder from Texas. Next, it was a battle of the recently-crowned North Carolina state champs. In the semifinals, Jon went up against Michael Williams, the defending 3-A champ from Southern Lee. Williams had a 1-0 lead at the end of the second period … but Jon came roaring back in the third, getting a 8-2 win.

Jon’s rival for the 140-pound title was Ryan Konz, a three-time Tennessee state placer and All-American … but the Cardinal Gibbons wrestler prevailed, 9-4, to win the Junior National crown.