Union Grove sophomore Justin Ruffin celebrates with coaches Matt Ferrari, right, and Chad Kollert, left, after Ruffin won his second straight state championship. (PHOTO: Jeff Hurndon Photography)
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Justin Ruffin did it again.
With a 5-2 decision win over Camden County senior Adrian Hughes in February’s state tournament, Ruffin took one more step to achieving the rare four-peat. Competing at 145 pounds this season, he finished his sophomore campaign with a 56-1 mark, with his lone loss coming in Florida at the hands of Cadet National Champion Anthony Artalona from Tampa Prep.
But there’s no offseason for Ruffin. He’s getting ready to start a whole new season of freestyle and greco style grappling, but we got the chance to catch up with him before it all begins to discuss his progress as a wrestler.
SCBuzz: How did being a state champion feel the second time around?
RUFFIN: “I guess it felt like I was more in control this year than last year. So that made this year a bit easier. I was more in control, and my training partners really helped me out a lot with that. My training partners and my coaches backed me up all the way through the state tournament.”
SCBuzz: How have you gotten better from freshman to sophomore year?
RUFFIN: “I’ve been lifting a lot more since freshman year, so that’s definitely made me stronger now. When you get stronger, it’s a lot easier to pin people and to score. It’s that, and practicing a lot more, and working on my technique. I feel like I’m able to execute my technique more effectively.”
SCBuzz: Who’s the toughest wrestler you’ve faced this past year?
RUFFIN: “I’d say that my (state tournament) finals match was the toughest one. Adrian Hughes from Camden County. He was a pretty unorthodox wrestler. He has a much different style, just the way how he moves differently than most wrestlers. He can scramble a lot better than most guys, and he’s good at passing legs and stuff. Real technical. He was hard to score on.”
SCBuzz: Beyond just your toughest wrestler, what would you call your biggest challenge during your title defense season?
RUFFIN: “Just staying mentally prepared and not getting mentally caught up in the hype of winning back-to-back championships.”
SCBuzz: I’d imagine you get quite a bit of that hype, don’t you?
RUFFIN:. “Yes sir. But I just try and stay humble. I think about it sometimes. I think about being a four-timer (state champion). That’d be really cool, and I’d say that’s one of my goals. I think about that every now and then. That’s one of those things not a lot of people have done.”
SCBuzz: So now that the high school season is done, what’s next for you?
RUFFIN: “Freestyle and Greco season is starting up soon, and I’ll be competing in FILA Cadets this summer. If I win that tournament, I go to compete on the world team. Then there’s Junior Duals in Fargo. Last year I competed in FILA Cadets and went 3-2. That’s not what I wanted to do, but I’ll have a chance to do better this year.”
SCBuzz: What do you think can give you a better edge this time around?
RUFFIN: “I’ve spent more time in the practice room sharpening my tools. Also, I’m staying at the same weight for the tournament. At 138.5 pounds, I think I can be stronger than most people.
SCBuzz: How would you describe the difference in the level of competition nationally versus here in Georgia alone?
RUFFIN: “Well, in high school you’re just dealing with wrestlers only in the state of Georgia. But at FILA Cadets and Fargo, you’re dealing with everybody in the country. And pretty much everybody that you face there is a state champion from somewhere.”
SCBuzz: Some may think you’ve already reached a pinnacle with back-to-back state crowns. But how do you see yourself needing to get better?
RUFFIN: “I guess I just have to keep training hard and fix those positions and weak areas that I need to fix. And just keep staying humble. The people I work with as training partners really do a lot to make that happen.”
SCBuzz: In your quest for becoming a four-time state champion, who are some of the up-and-comers you’ve seen that might make that hard for you.
RUFFIN: “There are some really good freshman out there, like Jackson Desario from Ola. Camden County looks like they’re going to be bringing in some more wrestlers who should be pretty good. And then there are sophomores like Cody Cochran from Woodland. I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing him at some point.”
Here’s the video of Ruffin’s state championship match: