As a junior last season, Statesville’s Jason Shuford qualified to compete in the 3A state wrestling tournament based on his fourth-place finish during the West regional.

In Greensboro, Shuford lost his first match but, pinning four of his last five opponents, he stormed back through the consolation bracket to finish fifth in the heavyweight division. That gritty effort allowed him to walk in the “Parade of Champions,” which precedes title matches in all classifications the final night of the state tournament.

“It felt good especially knowing that I went and didn’t place the year before,” Shuford said. “Now I know I can place and try to go for first this year.”

Wrestling season gets under way next week. The Greyhounds are scheduled to open on the road Tuesday in East Bend at Forbush’s quad, which is slated to also feature East Forsyth and North Stokes.

If Shuford has his way, he won’t be in the lineup. Perhaps unavailable until the middle of December, if all goes well.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on football and us trying to go to states,” Shuford said. “After that I’ll think about wrestling.”

Statesville’s football team enters the 3A state playoffs Friday at 11-0 and sporting the No. 2 seed in the West. North Buncombe (7-4), the No. 15 seed, visits Greyhound Hollow for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Behind an offense that has been electric on more than one occasion, Statesville averages 43 points per game.

The defense has been equally formidable, allowing 14 or fewer points in seven of the previous eight weeks. The exception being last Friday’s huge regular-season finale at West Rowan to decide the North Piedmont Conference champion. Statesville won 27-24 in overtime. Even then the ‘D’ only permitted 17 points. The Falcons’ punt coverage unit had a TD in that game.

Shuford, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound wrecking ball recorded nine tackles against West Rowan, and seven of those he didn’t need any help putting the ball carrier on the ground for little to no gain. Four times, Shuford dropped the Falcons runner behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.

“When No. 40 (Shuford) got his hands on you the only place you were going was straight down,” West Rowan’s Jalen Houston told the Salisbury Post.

Shuford admired that genuine show of respect from Houston, the 2018 NPC Offensive Player of the Year who figures to be in the running for the honor again this fall.

“He’s a great player,” Shuford said. “To hear that from him sounds good.”

Shuford returned to the defensive line with an increased role this season. Despite playing somewhat in the shadows of the dominant senior-laden unit in 2018, he still saw notable time on the field and contributed the third-most tackles for loss (10) on the team.

An effective pass rusher and run stopper, Shuford has spent his fair share of time in the backfield so far this season. There are 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks to his credit.

Asked if expectations were being met, Greyhounds coach Randall Gusler said, “Oh my gosh, yes.

“He’s one of those players that offensive coaches have to account for at all times,” Gusler continued. “You’ve got to game plan for him. He’s played tremendously.”

Tremendous efforts across the board the next four weeks could get the Greyhounds where they want to be: playing in the 3A state championship game Dec. 14.

They feel better about their final tune-up for the postseason. There was a lot riding on the West Rowan game: the NPC title, a high seed for the state playoffs, not to mention the program’s first unbeaten regular season in 30 years.

Rewind to a year ago, Statesville smacked East Rowan 53-3 in the regular-season finale to share the NPC title with South Iredell only to turn around and draw the Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs.

Whether it was the poor field conditions, taking East Rowan lightly because of the 50-point beat down or a combination of the two, Statesville trailed most of the way before eking out a 7-6 win to advance.

“We really needed (the West Rowan) game,” Shuford said. “After winning a hard game like that we’ve got more confidence going into the playoffs.”

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