All-County Football: Offensive Player of Year: Justin Ruffin
SALISBURY — The season was all of four minutes old when Justin Ruffin scored on a 41-yard run.
We should’ve known then that the Salisbury senior running back was on his way to a one-of-a-kind season. By the time it all ended in the 2AA Western final 14 weeks later, he had rushed for 1,724 yards. He had become coach Joe Pinyan’s top receiver with 18 catches for 365 yards. He had accumulated 33 touchdowns and scored 204 of his team’s 534 points.
So when he took the microphone during the all-county photo shoot, looked into the camera and announced, “Justin Superman Ruffin,” no one rolled his eyes.
It was true. The other all-county players and coach Joe Pinyan knew there was no other choice as Rowan County’s 2012 Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s the kind of kid you dream about,” said Pinyan, whose team finished 11-3.
And just think of what could have been. Ruffin missed a lot of the offseason workouts and admits he was not in the best shape when the season began. He ran for only 60 yards in the opening loss to East Rowan and only had 25 in Game 3 against West Rowan.
“There was a play in the East Rowan game where he took himself out because he was tired,” Pinyan said. “He got off to a slow start but didn’t sit back and pout. He and Brian (Bauk) would run sprints after practice so he could get back in playing shape. He might have scored 40 touchdowns. It was three weeks into the season before he became the running back we knew he could be.”
Ruffin says he likes to emulate his favorite player Adrian Peterson, a mixture of speed and power. And that was who he was from Week 4 on.
“Midway through the year,” Pinyan noted, “he became more of a punishing runner. And he has great vision. These things just don’t happen. You work on them.”
Ruffin averaged 11 yards per carry.
“That’s a first down every time he touches the ball,” Pinyan said.
Ruffin’s most famous game came in Week 9 against Thomasville. He scored four times, including a 90-yard kickoff return and a 98-yard catch-and-run from Bauk. He scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of a 43-39 victory.
“I was like, ‘I gotta have this ball in my hands on the last play. I have to,” Ruffin smiled of the memory.
The fans’ best memory was of his tight-roping the sidelines on the way to the last touchdown.
“I’ve got the mentality that no one is going to bring me down,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin became one of the state’s most visible players once the playoffs began. The Hornets played four postseason games. In three of them, the Hornet, who runs a 4.4 40, rushed for over 200 yards. In a win over Cuthbertson, he tied the school record with five scores.
And his biggest game of all came in the Western final loss to South Iredell when he churned for 262.
That’s pretty good for a kid who came to Pinyan from Salisbury Academy as a freshman and hadn’t even played the game in middle school.
“No one knew about me,” grinned Ruffin,
They do now.
“He has tremendous hands and tremendous focus,” Pinyan said. “And he pushes himself to make good grades.”
At 5-foot,10, 180 pounds, there are colleges who are intrigued with the speed and power.
“A couple have come by to look at my highlight tape,” Ruffin said.
The recruiters have plenty of highlights to see — from catching to running to returning kicks to blocking.
What do you expect from a kid they call Superman?