Gering wrestler Paul Ruff is quickly making a name for himself after transferring from Alliance to compete for the Bulldogs this season.
Ruff, who is ranked second at 120-pounds in Class B by the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association, is 11-1 on the season after suffering his first defeat at the GNAC Wrestling Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 4.
Ruff suffered a 1-0 setback to Columbus’ Clay Cerny.
“He was pretty frustrated because he’s wrestled that kid a few times before and beat him,” Gering coach Jarred Berger said. “The match didn’t go great. I don’t know if we weren’t prepared or looking down the road to other matches. It was a 1-0 match. The one point was a stall call. Anytime you leave a match in a ref’s hands that’s what happens.”
Frustration may have led to Ruff’s biggest win so far this season.
“I was upset that I lost by one point, but afterward it was a blessing in a way,” Ruff said. “(With a loss) you want to learn some things, but you just want to sometimes block some things. Forget about it and move on.”
Garcia is a two-time defending state champion for Scottsbluff, and is poised to make a run at his third straight state title.
“It was a big win. Paul Garcia is a great wrestler,” Berger said. “He’s a two-time state champ. He’s a really rough wrestler. We knew the match was going to be tough. He’s tough to score on, as evidenced by his record. He’s good. It’s a big win. We knew (Ruff) was capable of doing it. He just went out and executed.”
Ruff said his plan was to keep the match at 0-0 after the first period.
“After that, I took bottom and escaped,” Ruff said. “After that period, he took bottom and I turned him for a two count.”
Ruff won the match 8-1. There was a loud applause that rang through the gym for Ruff after getting the huge win.
Ruff, though, was unable to hear any of the loud cheers going through the gym. Ruff was born deaf, but had a cochlear implant installed in his left ear when he was 2. He has to take out the implant to wrestle.
“After I won that match, the crowd was cheering. I couldn’t hear anything, but I felt the ground rumbling,” he said. “It felt great. It wasn’t just Gering. I saw North Platte, Columbus. It was a pretty exciting match.”
Ruff said he has never had to learn sign language since he had the implant done at such a young age, but he and Berger have their own signals during matches.
“It’s a little challenging. We have some hand signals we’ve worked on,” Berger said. “It’s really Paul wrestling for himself. He’s out there on his own. He does a good job, obviously. We talk a lot before and after the match. We game plan before, and what he did right and wrong after. He’s been doing that his whole life. He understands. He knows how to wrestle. We don’t need to teach him to wrestle anymore.”
Berger said he is usually a little more vocal with his other wrestlers.
“It’s a little different for coach (Randy Donelson) and I because we like to yell,” Berger said with a laugh.
You have to give a lot of credit to Ruff’s will and general demeanor for the fact that he is even wrestling. When he got his cochlear implants, his parents were told that it was best if he didn’t compete in sports so he didn’t damage the implant.
Ruff said the cochlear implant has been a blessing in his life. He said it has helped him do things he wouldn’t be able to without it.
“I can listen to music,” he said. “I can listen to the TV.”
The biggest thing for him is he can still wrestle, which he’s been doing since he was 7.
Ruff has some pretty lofty goals of where he wants wrestling to take him. His goal this season is to win the state title at 120, but his goals are bigger than that. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father is a junior college champion as well as an NCAA Division II champion for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I have a couple colleges in mind that I’m looking at like University of Wyoming, St. Cloud or maybe Marysville,” he said.
For now, though, Ruff has his junior campaign and senior season to complete at Gering High School, where Berger said he has made a huge difference for his team.
“He’s the type of wrestler that if you ask him to do something, he’s going to do it. He wants to get better. When you have a kid who wants to get better, as a coach, I’m going to do anything and everything in my power to help him. It’s awesome to have kids like that,” Berger said. “Paul is a great wrestler. We knew that. We faced him the last two years. Our goals are pretty high for him. We let the kids set their own goals, but, of course, we guide them when we can. Paul had some pretty big goals he wrote down on his goal sheet. He’s committed to them. I told him I would help him in any way I could to achieve them. He is well on his way to achieving what he wants to do.”
Berger said Ruff’s impact on the rest of the team is immeasurable.
"It’s big. Any time you get a kid who wants to come to your school because of the things you’re doing, it’s great. Not only does it up the bar for the rest of the team, it makes everybody else want to work harder,” he said. “We have better competitors and higher caliber wrestlers. The best rooms in the state have a bunch of really good wrestlers battling everyday. We’re getting there. We’re continuing to build on that.”