Union Grove’s Justin Ruffin began a path toward a very rare achievement in the world of Georgia High School wrestling. He did it by winning a state championship during February’s Georgia High School Association state traditional wrestling meet.
And he did it as a freshman — the first freshman at Union Grove to perform such a feat.
Ruffin has already had tons of success, both locally and nationally, on the amateur wrestling circuit. And both he and his coach are hoping that this year’s state crown is the first of four that he’ll win throughout the course of his high school career.
Such a distinction — being a four-time state champion — would put him in rarified air. His coach, Matt Ferrari, said he believes only about 20 wrestlers from Georgia have finished their careers in such fashion. But Ruffin’s accomplishment has put him on that track.
What’s more, the soft spoken competitor’s big accomplishment was fueled by dedicating the season to his great grandmother, Florence Weaver-Pitts, a minister and well-known advocate in the city of Atlanta’s political and educational scenes. Weaver-Pitts passed away in the middle of the season, and Ruffin’s father said his son dedicated the remainder of his season to her.
For his achievements, The Southern Crescent Buzz has named Justin Ruffin its first Southern Crescent Wrestler of the Year.
Here’s the full skinny on Ruffin:
VITALS: Ruffin finished his first high school season wrestling for Union Grove with a 45-2 record at 132 pounds.
WHY RUFFIN: Watch him wrestle, and you’ll see why. Ruffin has already had a slew of success as a middle schooler, and he was able — at least in his first year — to transfer that dominance to the high school level. Ruffin’s blend of strength and technical wrestling skill shows a maturity far beyond that of typical freshmen grapplers.
Q&A WITH JUSTIN RUFFIN
SCBuzz: This isn’t the first time you’ve won big on the mat, but it is the first time winning on this stage in high school. How did it feel?
RUFFIN: “It felt pretty good, actually. It made me feel like all of the hard work and practice I’d been putting in has really paid off.”
SCBuzz: What does that practice regimen look like for you from week to week?
RUFFIN: “I usually practice at the high school and then practice at The Compound every day, and then I get a workout in between all of that. I’m working out and practicing Monday through Friday.”
SCBuzz: As has already been stated, you’ve won on some pretty big stages against some pretty tough competition locally and nationally before now. How does the competition you’ve faced previously compare to what you saw in your first year in high school?
RUFFIN: “Nothing’s really changed, honestly. You just go out there and compete no matter who you’re wrestling against. It’s all the same. You just have to go out and wrestle the same way.”
SCBuzz: Both you and your coach say that finishing as a four-time state champ is the goal for you. What do you have to do from here to make that happen?
RUFFIN: “I really have to stay on top of my training. I need to keep getting better and not fall back and let people pass me. I have to keep on getting better and keep passing up other people instead.”
SCBuzz: What did Coach Ferrari say to you after winning state?
RUFFIN: “I was just just really happy. (Coach Ferrari) was just telling me ‘congratulations’ and letting me know how proud of me he was. He said that this was the first step to becoming a four-timer.”
SCBuzz: So now that the high school season is over, what’s next for you?
RUFFIN: “I’ll be doing some freestyle and greco style competition, and I’ll be trying to get onto the Cadet National Team and trying to make a world team through FILA (International Wrestling Federation). I’ve got NHSCA (National High School Coaches Association) national tournament coming up in about a month.”
SCBuzz: Finally, Justin, where do you see yourself needing to improve?
RUFFIN: “I probably need to be more aggressive on my feet and attack more. I’m really more of a counter attack wrestler, but I need to start trying to work at pushing the pace more. I’ve started practicing more with my coaches, and Taylor Lujan (former Carrollton High and current Northern Iowa wrestler). Just working to get better.”
COACH MATT ON RUFFIN: “I’m super proud of Justin as a coach. It’s one of those things that, as a coach, you dream to be a part of. Win a state championship as a team, and have the possibility of having a kid that could be a four-timer. This is the first step, now by no means does it guarantee that he’ll get there, but winning it as a freshman is the first step toward it. He’s got the skill set, and a lot of it depends on who you draw in brackets, but he’s got as a good a shot as anyone to do it.”