As state nears, brothers are close in more ways than one

Omaha Burke's James Burks, left, tries to escape the grip of his brother, Omaha North's Otis Rollins. The two are on opposite sides of the 132-pound bracket at this year's state tournament.

Ideally, Otis Rollins and James Burks wouldn't have to compete against one another on the mat.

But since they are two of Class A's best 132-pound wrestlers, meetings between the brothers have been inevitable.

"I don't think they like wrestling each other because they're brothers, but they handle it really well," Omaha Burke coach Wes Boehm said. "I told (James), 'Hey, when it comes to Metros and districts and state, you're going to have to wrestle.' "

Rollins is a senior at Omaha North and Burks is a freshman at Burke. The brothers have faced each other twice this season. Both meetings came in championship finals, one at the Metro Conference meet last month and then again in districts last Saturday in Grand Island.

Burks, 48-3 and ranked No. 1 in Class A as a freshman, has earned a pair of one-point victories, winning 3-2 at Metro and 1-0 at districts.

Rollins, ranked fourth with a 38-7 record, led the Metro final 1-0 after two periods before Burks got an escape and a takedown early in the third. At districts, they were tied 0-0 after two periods. Rollins allowed an escape to start the third period and

wasn't able to get the deciding takedown.

So in 12 minutes of wrestling between them, there's been one takedown and six points.

They know each other so well, Boehm said, they need to take the perfect shot to score.

"They aren't going to put themselves in danger," he said.

Boehm has coached both brothers in high school. Rollins went to Burke as a freshman and reached the 106-pound state final that season before losing to two-time champion Nolan Laux of Hastings.

Rollins has attended North the past three years and was second at state as a sophomore and fourth last season. North coach Anders Christensen said this season has been a challenge for Rollins.

"He's dealing with a lot of injuries. After the season, he'll get surgery on both of his shoulders," Christensen said. "It's been sort of a battle. We've been trying to get him through this year. It's his senior season, and he wants to wrestle. He's a tough kid."

Christensen said it would mean a lot for him to see Rollins win a title. Rollins has lived with Christensen's family the past two years, becoming what the coach called "a huge part of our family."

Christensen said Rollins wants to wrestle in college and has gotten interest from a number of programs, including Colorado State-Pueblo.

"His potential is limitless. His work ethic is remarkable. That kid deserves it because he works so hard," Christensen said. "I can tell you there's no one in the state who works harder than he does."

Boehm said the brothers have different strengths on the mat, but he's been impressed by what Burks has accomplished as a freshman.

"He's always been good on his feet, and underneath and on top, he's really improved. That's made him a better wrestler," Boehm said. "He's a very smart wrestler — way above a freshman. He's mat-savvy."

One of Burks' losses was less than a month ago at the Burke Invitational when he moved up to 138 pounds and faced threetime state champion Isaac DeLoa of Millard South. Burks and DeLoa were tied 6-6 after two periods before DeLoa earned a 10-6 win.

Boehm has seen Burks get better as the season has progressed, and he figured that would be the case simply from the competition he sees in the practice room. His workout partner is 152-pounder Connor Fox, one of five Bulldogs to win district titles last weekend. The others were Burks, unbeaten Joey Harrison (106), Michael Bridgeford (113) and Joshua Jansa (138).

Boehm hopes some of them will be in Saturday's finals. Burks may get another match with his older brother. They are on opposite sides of the bracket, which means they could meet in the finals. Again.

"I'm sure they're thinking, 'If something happens to me, I hope my brother can win state,'" Boehm said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1038,

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