By Rubin E. Grant
Sam Willoughby already was playing football when his dad, Lee Willoughby, suggested he also try wrestling.
Lee Willoughby had been part of a state wrestling championship team at Hewitt-Trussville in 1988 and encouraged his son to give the sport a try.
“He took me out there on the mat, and I liked it,” Sam Willoughby said. “I’ve been wrestling eight or nine years now.”
Willoughby, a Vestavia Hills High School senior, still plays football. A 5-foot-10-inch defensive back, Willoughby was named to the 2019 All-Over The Mountain Journal football team.
He doesn’t have a preference for one sport over the other.
“I like to work hard at both,” Willoughby said.
Right now Willoughby is working hard wrestling, although he spent less than a minute on the mat last Friday when the Rebels hosted Bob Jones in the first round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Duals Class 7A tournament.
Willoughby, ranked No. 3 in Class 7A at 170 pounds, took only 45 seconds to pin the Patriots’ Josh Sutton.
It was part of the Rebels’ near total domination as they steamrolled Bob Jones 63-15, recording 10 pins in the 14 weight classes and losing only three matches.
“We performed really well,” Vestavia Hills coach Tee Adams said. “It’s probably the best we’ve performed all season. It was a collective team effort.”
The triumph was extra sweet for the Rebels. Bob Jones had eliminated Vestavia Hills in the Class 7A Duals semifinals the past two years en route to winning the Duals title in 2018 and finishing as runners-up in 2019.
“It felt really good,” Willoughby said. “We’ve been working hard the last couple of years and coming up short. This year we’ve continued working hard and everybody is getting after it.
“This was a win for everybody, including the JV (junior varsity) guys, who had been working hard, too. I am glad we had a chance to show off what we can to.”
Rebels sophomore Zach Furry, who is ranked No. 1 in Class 7A at 106 pounds, pinned Bob Jones’ Peyton King in 3:26.
Four other Vestavia wrestlers recorded pins in fewer than 2:00 minutes: Bryant Segars at 128 pounds, Leighton Reese at 134, Trey Saunders at 197 and Bryce Littleton at 222,
Hasting Roberts at 115 pounds, Christopher Hays at 122, John Edwards at 162 and Dawson Ray at 287 also recorded pins.
Chandler Merrill was the only Vestavia Hills winner who didn’t record a pin, scoring a 7-2 decision against Bob Jones’ Jamie Clark at 154.
The Rebels advanced to the semifinals and was to host Huntsville on Wednesday. Huntsville advanced with a 36-25 victory against Hewitt-Trussville.
“Huntsville has a really good team, but if we get after it and do what our coaches tell us, we can beat anybody,” Willoughby said.
Oak Mountain will visit Thompson in the other Class 7A semifinal.
The semifinal winners will meet in the Duals Finals championship match at 6 p.m. on Friday in the Bill Harris Arena at the Birmingham CrossPlex.