COLLEGE WRESTLING: ATHENS GRAD BURKHART LANDS AT DIVISION I KENT FOR ANOTHER YEAR ON MATS
(2024-01-01)By TIM BIRNEYValley Sports Report
ATHENS — It appeared Athens grad A.J. Burkhart’s wrestling career was over upon his graduation from Lehigh, but a successful shoulder surgery, a chat with a fellow Athens grad, and entry into the transfer portal has given him one more year at Division I Kent University.
Burkhart was a N.Y. State champ as a freshman in 2015, and a sixth-place finisher as a sophomore despite a torn knee ligament. After a transfer to Athens prior to his junior season, he was a fifth-place finisher at the PIAA championships as a senior.
Burkhart also thought his career was over when he wrestled his last match at Lehigh.
“I had to have shoulder surgery at the end of last season, and I was content with being done, but the recovery went well, so I decided to go into the portal to see what my options were,” he said.
Athens grad Kaden Setzer, who is now a sophomore at Kent, played a part in Burkhart landing at Kent.
“Kaden Setzer told me the (Kent) coach was interested, so that kind of got me to go into the portal,” he said.
“I got a good deal from Kent, so I decided to use my last year, and take one more shot at it,” Burkhart added.
Burkhart said the opportunity to start was also a big draw to Kent.
“I’m gonna be the guy at 174,” he said. “They have a freshman there, who they will probably redshirt.”
Burkhart seemed a bit dismayed by the end of his time at Lehigh, but praised his time there.
“I was at Lehigh for five years, and cracked the line-up a couple times … my last year there, the way it ended was interesting, but I have nothing but good things to say about Lehigh. All those guys are my brothers, and I like the coaches a lot.”
Burkhart won his state title as a freshman at Waverly at 99 pounds, and won his PIAA medal as a senior at 126 pounds. He wrestled at 174 and 184 last season at Lehigh.
Burkhart said putting on the weight was the best thing that could have happened to him.
“Honestly, I wish I had done it sooner,” he said. “I cut a lot of weight in high school, and I didn’t really lift at all.
“I got to college, and the coaches said, ‘you have a big frame, you’re going to fill out.’ I thought it might be 141 or 149 … I was 149 my first year, then 157 for two years, then I was 184.
“I started hitting the gym, eating a lot, and wrestling better,” noted Burkhart. “It made wrestling more enjoyable.
“Like I said, I wish I had done it sooner,” Burkhart added. “I think I could have had even better results in high school if I had focused on wrestling, instead of cutting weight.”
Burkhart, who earned his degree in Environmental Science at Lehigh, isn’t sure what his future holds in terms of employment, but his spare time could involve coaching.
“Right now, I’m coaching at Athens, my brother (Cooper Robinson) is there,” said Burkhart. “I like coaching, but I like doing what I’m doing now … I’m the guy in the room, and I’m working out with the guys every day, helping where I can.
“I’m not sure I want to deal with being a head coach, and all the politics, but I like coaching, and helping the young guys,” added Burkhart.
Kent returns to action Jan. 5 at the Franklin & Marshall College Open on Jan. 5, and the Virginia Duals on Jan. 12.
IN PHOTO: A.J. Burkhart. … PHOTO BY MATT PATTON.