Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's Justin Ruffin
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Salisbury halfback Justin Ruffin averages 9.6 yards per carry, but he knows there’s still one person who can stop him.
“My mother,” Ruffin said with a smile. “She stresses the classroom above everything. If my grades aren’t good, she’ll pull me right off the field.”
Hornet fans needn’t worry about Ruffin suddenly vanishing from the backfield. His junior season has been as solid with the books as it’s been on the grass, where he’s amassed 952 rushing yards on just 99 carries. He’s scored 20 TDs — 13 on the ground, seven through the air.
“It’s not like we didn’t expect this,” coach Joe Pinyan said. “We saw enough of Justin last year to know he’d be good on the field and would do the right things off it.”
Ruffin had 12 carries for 101 yards last season, all in the playoffs, all while filling in at fullback. This season, with Max Allen taking over at fullback, Ruffin was installed at the vacant halfback position that had belonged to famed sprinter and UNC signee Romar Morris.
“We still had Dominique (Dismuke) coming back at the other halfback, but everyone said I had to fill Romar’s shoes,” Ruffin said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
He’s handled it.
The Hornets’ wishbone is as dynamic as ever — producing staggering averages of 44.3 points — a school-record pace — and 347 rushing yards per game.
Ruffin, Dismuke and Allen all sped for over 100 yards in Friday’s 48-6 romp against East Davidson, and QB Brian Bauk also has produced electric outings for the Hornets (9-2).
“It’s not a selfish bunch,” Pinyan said. “They all want to win and they understand the nature of our offense. Depending on what teams take away, someone’s going to get more carries on a given night, but for the season the workload is about even.”
Ruffin jetted for two TD runs on Friday. His speed is his biggest asset. He said he runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, but the guys who are chasing him — and not catching him — will tell you he plays quicker than the stopwatch says.
Ruffin isn’t exceptionally big (5-foot-9, 175), but he’s plenty tough. One of the adjustments Salisbury’s coaching staff made after a 34-27 loss to Thomasville was to assign Ruffin on some special teams units.
“That was the thing that impressed the staff the most about Justin’s game Friday,” Pinyan said. “He was flying down the field on coverage and made three tackles. He gave us a spark.”
Ruffin earned the Hornets’ special teams award for the week. Not a bad debut.
“We got Justin out of the game on offense once we had a safe lead,” Pinyan said. “He asked us if that meant he was out of the game on special teams too. We told him, ‘Nah, you can stay in there on kickoffs.’ That made him happy.”
Ruffin collected his fifth 100-yard game against East Davidson, and he’s gotten it done against the stout teams as well as the weak ones.
For instance, he had 11 carries for 105 yards in a bruising loss to West Rowan.
“Before the game everyone was telling me how big and tough West Rowan was,” Ruffin said. “Well, they were very tough, but I was prouder of that night than any game all season. To get 100 against West Rowan is a very good accomplishment.”
Ruffin needs just 48 yards in Friday’s first-round playoff matchup against Winston-Salem Carver to reach 1,000 for the year.
That would also mean something.
“It would put my name up there with great players like Romar and Dominique, so it would mean a lot to me,” he said. “It would also be a credit to our offensive linemen. We’ve got a very good offensive line. Without them, we’re not going anywhere.”