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Wrestling: Should Nebraska Hit Up Transfer Portal?

With most Seniors expected back and a stacked cupboard of underclassmen, Nebraska can be picky in transfer portal; Former 3x Nebraska state champ Burks leaving Oklahoma State

Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning (right) has built a solid roster with established veterans as well as young talent coming down the pipeline.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

The NCAA wrestling transfer portal has been heating up lately and I started wondering if Nebraska is/will be going after some guys to round out their roster for 2021-22.

Nebraska will occasionally hit the transfer market, highlighted by a pair of transfers in the starting lineup in Liam Cronin (Indiana transfer in 2020) and Christian Lance (Fort Hays State transfer in 2018). Cronin is a 125-pounder and Lance is a heavyweight. Also at heavyweight, Nebraska has former Wyoming transfer Cale Davidson and Landon Brown, a transfer from the junior college ranks in 2020.

Outside of the top and bottom of the lineup, Nebraska doesn’t have a single transfer.

Traditionally, Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning and his staff have been solid recruiters so they haven’t had to plug too many holes in their rosters with transfers. And this year is really no different in that regard.

After signing four-straight Top-10 classes, Nebraska is in a spot where it has a lot of talent coming up that just hasn’t hit the starting lineup yet because they’ve been waiting their turn behind All-Americans. Also, this shorted Covid season robbed many younger wrestlers of the opportunity to really see the mat outside of the practice room.

With this past season not counting against eligibility, these college coaches are going to be earning their paychecks as they navigate their lineups and how and when to use redshirts, especially with so many seniors around the country coming back because of the extra year of eligibility.

With most true freshmen not seeing the mat at all or just getting a couple matches this year, I anticipate the Nebraska coaching staff will redshirt everyone they possibly can.

As I mentioned, Nebraska has a lot of young talent in both quality and quantity. Out of the 33 wrestlers that will be on the roster this year, 15 will be freshmen (9 true freshmen, 6 redshirt freshmen).

And with only one starting spot open due to the graduation of Caleb Licking at 157 pounds, Nebraska is in a great position to redshirt the entire 2020 recruiting class. That is, if Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz return, which is expected.

In fact, Nebraska has a returning starter and their heir apparent either on the roster or committed as recruits at nearly every single weight class.

At 125 pounds, Cronin is coming back for his senior year and Jeremiah Reno is an extremely talented youngster who should get his redshirt.

At 133, Tucker Sjomeling and Alex Thomsen each started last year with Sjomeling getting the postseason nod, but the Huskers have the highly-touted true freshman Dominick Serrano coming down the pipe. Serrano recently finished in 3rd-place at Junior Nationals in freestyle.

At 141, Chad Red is a 4-time All-American, while true freshman Brock Hardy is the future of that weight class for the Big Red according to Manning.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Nebraska’s Chad Red (top) wrestles NC State’s Tariq Wilson during the NCAA Championships in March.
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Ridge Lovett, a sophomore, should hold down 149 for years to come, unless he moves up in weight again. Manning did mention that Lovett may not be done growing and moving up. I anticipate he’ll eventually move up to 157.

At 157 now though, Nebraska will need a new starter. I anticipate a battle between a pair of redshirt freshmen in Kevon Davenport and Bubba Wilson.

Sophomore Peyton Robb moved up last year to 165 pounds and that looks like the weight class he’ll stay at and hold down for Nebraska for the next three years.

Mikey Labriola is a junior at 174 pounds. He has two years remaining, so his eventual successor probably isn’t on the roster yet. In fact, he’s the only wrestler listed at 174 on Nebraska’s roster.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Mikey Labriola
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

If Venz decides to come back, he’ll be the man for Nebraska at 184 pounds. Then the Huskers have Nathan Haas coming up to fill his shoes. The true freshman started some duals this year and was a big-time recruit in 2020.

At 197, Eric Schultz is expected to come back, so Nebraska’s successor Silas Allred should get a chance to redshirt this year with an eye on the starting spot the following year.

At 285, Nebraska has senior Christian Lance who just finished fifth at Senior Nationals and will be competing at the US Senior World Team Trials in September. Also, Nebraska has Cale Davidson who will likely take over after Lance. Then comes Harley Andrews, a 2021 commit out of Oklahoma that’s won multiple state titles, most recently at 220 pounds as a junior.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Nebraska’s Christian Lance (left) wrestles Ohio State’s Tate Orndorff at the 2021 NCAA Championships in March.
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Most Likely Husker Target

Nebraska’s biggest needs are at 133 and 157. Looking at the names in the portal, there’s currently nobody that would be an obvious upgrade at 157, so that leaves 133 pounds.

And there’s a familiar face in there that just entered the portal on May 10 in Jakason Burks.

A recruit that got away from Nebraska a year ago, Burks has decided to leave Oklahoma State after fellow true freshman Trevor Mastrogiovanni beat out Burks for the starting spot at 125 pounds. Burks went 6-2 on the year for the Cowboys.

In Burks’ final match of the year, he made a very team-first decision and moved up two weight classes to 141 to take on then-No. 6 Dom Demas of Oklahoma in a dual. With Dusty Hone out of the lineup with an injury, Burks moved up to replace him. The freshman put forth a gutsy effort and almost held Demas to a regular decision. Leading just 6-3 in the third period, Demas was able to get Burks on his back for the win by pinfall at the 5:31 mark.

Before heading to Oklahoma State, Burks was a standout at Omaha Burke where he won three Nebraska state titles in Class A. After winning titles at 106 pounds as a freshman and sophomore, Burks moved up to 120 as a junior and won another title.

As a senior, Burks was upset in the state final at 132 pounds by Conor Knopick, an Iowa State commit.

Outside of the folkstyle realm, Burks is proficient in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Burks won the 2018 Fargo National Title in freestyle while also making the 2018 Greco-Roman World Team.

Adding Burks would add another young body into the lower weights for Manning and his crew to mold. With youngsters like Reno, Serrano and Hardy already there, Burks would be a welcome addition to the competition.

Husker Wrestler Enters Portal

Nebraska redshirt freshman Tyler Deen is Nebraska’s only wrestler to enter the portal so far. He’s listed at both 141 and 149 pounds.

Deen went 10-6 in 2019-20. He won a New Mexico state title as a freshman in high school before moving to California and becoming a two-time California state placer.