Shea Ruffridge was one of the top recruits of the entire Iowa 2018 class… but you barely heard his name mentioned in those conversations. I don’t know why some of the things he was doing seemed to go unnoticed, but when a kid makes noticeable and consistent strides, year after year and shows no signs of slowing down and even starts to avenge some of his losses… he needs to be talked about. That is a pattern. He went from being a fringe-placer guy in 8th grade placing 6th to qualifying for state the following year for Pocahontas Area and followed that up by placing 4th twice and then secured a championship his senior season in a TOUGH bracket. The kid he beat in the finals his Senior season (Eric Faught from Clear Lake) has been competitive with the nation’s best for years now… you’d think the guy who beat him in the finals at state as a Junior would draw some more “whoa’s.” Way too many crickets.. Now here he is in his Sophomore season right up there with the best of them at the NAIA level. His Heart of America showing was flat-out impressive. My brother won the OW of that tournament, but really, Ruffridge was so dominant that they could have given it to him just as easy. And then at Nationals he was RIGHT….THERE… with every single kid in that bracket. He lost a couple squeakers and dare I say… welp, the kid got ripped off bad in the blood round. I thought he should have AA’d. Oh well, the learning experience was valuable for him and the trajectory is still pointing upward for him. If he makes the same gain next year that he has made every year since 8th grade, he will be a favorite to win nationals. So Shea Ruffridge weighs in!
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
I started wrestling back in Kindergarten and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. My parents randomly approached me one weekend and asked if I would like to go to a wrestling tournament. Without any practice or any knowledge of what wrestling was, I took a chance and said yes and we headed to Estherville, IA for my first ever wrestling tournament. Fun fact, I lost my first ever match in a tight one to Zach Price who currently wrestles at SDSU. I ended up taking second place at the tournament that day and the rest is history. I am forever grateful for my parents getting me into this crazy sport called wrestling.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
I have a bunch of family that has either wrestled or that is still currently wrestling. I have a couple of uncles that were hammers back in their prime. My uncle Dusty Rhodes was a state champion at Osage and won a national title at Wartburg. My other uncles Todd Huffman (Storm Lake) and Tye Lettow (Alden) were also state placewinners at the Iowa High School State Tournament. Jack Huffman is one of my stud cousins who currently wrestles for Augustana University in Sioux Falls. He was a multiple time state champion in Nebraska and was AU’s varsity 133lber. this season. My other cousin Jace Rhodes is currently a sophomore at Mason City and is a two time state medalist and state finalist. Finally, my younger brother Tyce is currently a sophomore at Pocahontas Area. The kid has a lot of drive to be great and knows how to work hard. I fully expect to see him down in Des Moines next year on the podium.
What were your youth results?
During my childhood my parents took me all across the state and country to wrestle in thousands of tournaments. I placed at AAU and Grade School State quite a few times but that’s about the best I ever did. I’d say I was always a pretty average wrestler but never really reached the heights I had hoped for.
How did your parents decide on the name Shea? I have a brother named Shea and my parents got his name from my youth wrestling rival, Shea Stamp. Is there a story to yours as well?
Funny story on my name, at least from what my mom has told me. When my mom was in the hospital with me, her and my dad really didn’t know what they were going to name me. They happened to be talking about it while a New York Mets game was playing on TV and Shea Stadium was mentioned by one of the commentators. They liked the name and rolled with it, so here I am. Not going to lie, I was pretty heartbroken when they began the destruction of Shea Stadium back in 2008.
(Editor’s note: Funny thing is, the guy my brother was named after was named after Shea Stadium himself).
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I think the most challenging thing for me was the amount of failure I encountered. When I was younger, it was hardest for me to understand that you are entitled to nothing. You could be the hardest working person in the world and never get what you want. That was so hard for me to grasp at a young age. I failed and failed and failed and failed again as a kid but my dad was always there to talk me through it. He always told me that my time would come. Despite all of the failures, I trusted and believed him. I am a firm believer that the failures shaped me and made me a better person and wrestler today.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I would define my wrestling style as quick, basic, and explosive. Those are my best two attributes in my opinion. My quickness alone has won me a lot of matches in my career. I just try to win every position and score more points than the other guy and that is what wins me a lot of matches.
Who was your most influential coach?
My most influential coach has definitely been Coach Gavin Hjerleid. He is the man. He came into my life when I was a freshman in high school, but has done so much for me in that short amount of time. We experienced a lot of lows together but also a lot of highs. Jumping into his arms after winning my state title is a memory that will last forever.
(Editor’s Note: I know Gavin, great guy. Shea’s uncle Dusty Rhodes was a state champion for Osage in 1992. His opponent in the finals, Tom Harbison from Wapello. The HC in the 90s for Wapello was none other than Gavin Hjeleid).
TJ Sebolt definitely helped me gain an edge during my one year training at SWA. He is an incredible coach and will suck every last bit out of you. If you want to get tougher and better at wrestling… go to Sebolt Wrestling Academy, it is pretty simple.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Most recently, I failed to All-American at the 2020 NAIA National Championships and that one still stings and it always will. I feel like I cheated myself out of something special. I put in so much work during the pre-season and regular season and let it all go to waste because of some silly stupid mental lapses. Like always, this failure will drive me and always be in the back of my head to make sure it never happens again.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Aaron Wernimont will forever be the most influential wrestler in my life. We talk about living a “Championship Lifestyle” every single day at Grand View and that’s exactly how Aaron lived. He was an awesome wrestler but he was an even better person. After he passed away in 2012, I made it a goal of mine to be as much like him as I could.
I feel like Grand View landed a huge sleeper recruit with you and believe you have a totally legit D1 ceiling due to hour consistent and measurable progressions that has lasted years. Were you recruited by D1? How do you like the NAIA scene?
I was never recruited very hard by any Division 1 schools. I had some interest in going to UNI or Iowa State but I really found a great home here at Grand View. I am a part of a championship culture and am surrounded by a bunch of amazing people. To me, whether I were to win an NCAA title or an NAIA title, it would still feel the same. I am still going to feel like a champion at the end of the day regardless of the division.
You Grand View guys are nice, how do we get these people to stop booing and hating you guys before they know you?
That is a really good question LOL. I was always told that we were the bad guys and that everybody hated us but I never really understood it fully until I was wrestling at the National Tournament. When we walked in the building, everybody glared at us. When we wrestled, everybody booed us and prayed for our downfall. It was like we did something terribly wrong to every person in the building that wasn’t wearing black and red. It’s true, we are all super great guys who live a championship lifestyle on and off the mat. We just embrace the hate because everyone just wishes they had what we have. The booing and hating will probably never stop, but I love the motto “kill em’ with kindness”. We will just keep living the championship lifestyle and being the awesome dudes we are. Maybe someday they’ll come around ; ) .
Would you recommend a recruit who is on the fence about committing to Grand View to do so? What would you tell these people?
The NAIA is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. This division of wrestling is tough and has its fair share of studs just like the other divisions. Each individual just has to find out what is best for them. Some dudes get wrapped up in being “Division I” and that is super important to them. Some guys just want to find the right fit. Whatever it may be, here is what I would suggest. Find a place that feels like home. It is super important to be surrounded by people that truly care about you. Not just as a wrestler but as a person. Find a place where you are going to fit in and enjoy. Finally, find a place where you are going to succeed and get what you are looking for.
How do some of the D1 and NAIA guys compare to each other from your experience? Do you feel some NAIA guys can compete at that level?
In my opinion, each and every division of collegiate wrestling has its fair share of studs. Obviously Division I wrestling is what it is and has quite a few “elite” level wrestlers. But with that being said, I have scrapped with plenty of Division I wrestlers and have beaten a lot of current Division I wrestlers. I was 3-3 against Division I wrestlers in the 2019-2020 season according to Track Wrestling. One of those losses was a (9-7 Dec.) against NCAA National Qualifier Jack Skudlarczyk (Northern Iowa). I know that I am right there with some of the better Division I guys and a lot of other top NAIA guys are as well. We wrestle hard, we work hard, and we compete. The NAIA is definitely no joke and I can only see the competition getting better with the massive growth in the last couple of years.
Where was your best performance this year?
My best tournament this year was probably at the Missouri Valley Invitational. I won a loaded bracket full of NAIA All-Americans, and this year’s 133lb. NAIA National Champion.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
If I could go back, I would probably give up playing football in high school so I could focus more on wrestling. I made huge strides during my senior year at SWA. It just really makes me wonder how good I would/could have been if I would have started going there three years prior…
What is your best wrestling memory/accomplishment? How hard did you work?
My best wrestling accomplishment to this day is winning a state title. Winning a state title is something I chased ever since the day I got into the sport. I failed a lot along the way but that is what continued to drive me. I had the goal of becoming a state champion and wanted to reach that goal so bad so I worked my ass off. All of the hard work eventually paid off and I got what I had been wanting for so long, but now I want more of that feeling. With three years left in my collegiate career, I am seeking three national titles and am on the chase for them. I am excited for what the future has to offer.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Wrestling was always seasonal for me. I was a pretty good baseball player and that wasn’t something I was willing to give up for summer wrestling. I also played football and ran track in high school so I was always busy with something. Sometimes I wonder what could have been but I wouldn’t trade my other high school athletic experiences for the world.
What are your favorite sports teams?
I am a diehard Iowa Hawkeye football fan. Anybody that knows me well knows that I truly hurt whenever the hawks lose. As for professional sports, I am a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Cubs / Kansas City Royals, and whomever LeBron James plays for in the NBA.
What are your hobbies?
Some of my favorite hobbies include spending time at the lake, playing golf, and playing fortnite with the boys.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling has taught me so many life lessons. It sounds like a cliche but it is so true. My work ethic, my drive to be great, my character, it all stems down from wrestling. On the mat, I learned how to succeed in life even when adversity strikes. On the mat, I learned that when you don’t succeed, the only person to blame is yourself. On the mat, I learned that you are entitled to absolutely nothing and that everything must be earned. Wrestling is and always will be one of my biggest influencers and I am forever grateful for this incredible sport.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Work hard and enjoy the journey. Try not to focus solely on the destination, but appreciate the journey it takes to get there. Every extra workout, every skipped party, every missed meal; it is worth it when it is all said in done.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
I would like to give a shout out to all of the people who have ever counted me out or said I wasn’t good enough. I love being a dark horse and proving people wrong so keep it coming. I’d also like to give a shout out to everyone that has supported me. The community of Pocahontas, my family and friends, my coaches and my teammates, you all know who you are. I wrestle for you because I want to prove you all right.