It is never an offseason for Eastside High wrestler Joel Stafford.
Stafford, a junior, has become a dominating force on the mat, and is one of the best wrestlers in the state, if not the nation.
Perhaps that is why he has been selected as wrestler of the year to headline the inaugural 2007-08 All-County Wrestling Team.
The team includes 16 wrestlers in all from each of the three county high schools.
Yet humbled as being the first to receive the honor as wrestler of the year, Stafford is more excited for his team winning the AAAA state traditional championship.
"It feels great," said Joel, "It's been a great year."
For first-year Eastside head coach Brandon Blakeman, he knew he had been blessed with a quality wrestler from day one.
"(Joel) set that tone of wanting to get better," said Blakeman. "The mental attitude that Joel has brought to the program is the attitude that we wanted everyone to have, and so far it's working."
Stafford was impressive in his freshman year when he matched up against eventual state champion Dequan Warner (Southwest DeKalb) in the semifinals of the 2006 GHSA State Traditional Tournament. Stafford settled for third place after defeating Jemey Ledford (Habersham Central).
The following year, Stafford won his first Area 8-AAAA title, then went on to capture the state AAAA title after defeating Tony Pullen (Clarke Central) in the 103-pound weight class.
After his intense offseason regiment and tacking on an additional 16 pounds, Stafford dominated on the mat in the 119-pound division, finishing this season with an overall record of 51-5. He captured his second Area 8-AAAA title, yet Stafford had to settle as AAAA state runner-up after losing his title to Noel Hall (Dacula) by points in the state finals.
Stafford was runner-up at the 2007 South Metro Invitational after matching up against good friend and two-times defending AAA State Champion Evan Warrington (Henry County) in an epic matchup. In fact, some considered it the best match of the entire tournament.
Stafford will participate with Team Georgia at the Junior National Wrestling Tournament during the offseason. Last October, he participated in the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, S.C. where 1,250 wrestlers from 34 different states competed against each other.
Among the elite who wrestled in Stafford's weight class was sixth-ranked Kegan Handlovic (Easton, Pa.) and junior-All American Steve Mitcheff (Elyria, Ohio).
"Joel is a tremendously hard worker and one of the first ones (at Eastside) who wrestle year-round," said Blakeman.
For a closer look at The Covington News 2007-08 All-County Wrestling Team, see Sports 1B.