The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
Before every Long Beach Poly football game for the last few decades, the Jackrabbits have gathered up in the end zone and surrounded a leader of the team as he performs the Samoan “Patia” chant. As the Jackrabbits clap, chant, and shout for Long Beach, fans in the stands cheer.
This year, the senior at the center of that group leading the chant is offensive lineman Tyson Ruffins. A 6-3, 305 pound stud, Ruffins has a high GPA and more than two dozen scholarship offers, from service academies and Ivy Leagues to Hawaii, Idaho, and others. He’s been a big part of leading a senior class that’s put the Jackrabbits back on the national map, with their first undefeated regular season in 14 years, and a national No. 22 ranking from MaxPreps.
“He’s been a leader for four years for us, and he’s learned from other great leaders and mentors who played before him,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “He’s another one of those Poly linemen, Polynesian kids who’s done everything right. He’s the epitome ‘whatever you need, coach.’ We’re lucky to have him.”
Ask Barbee or Poly line coaches Jermaine Jackson and Marcus Falanai about Ruffins and they all go on about what a great kid he is or a great leader. And then they almost have to stop themselves and remind you that he’s an absolute stud on the field, too.
“Guys on the sideline see him toss somebody or slam somebody and when he’s mauling people it gets everyone hyped,” said Jackson. “He threw a kid in one of our games and the sideline’s going nuts--that lineman went to the other side of the field and never came back to Tyson’s side. That’s what gets his teammates fired up.”
Ruffins’ position group has helped lead Poly to its outstanding season to this point. They’ve been excellent in protecting QB Darius Curry during his historic season, especially important with Curry coming off a knee injury. They’ve also helped pave the way for a powerful rushing game, which helped carry the Jackrabbits to last year’s CIF-SS Division 4 championship.
Ruffins said he’s just happy and proud to be part of the turnaround at 1600 Atlantic.
“From my first year to now you’ve seen the talent and the program grow,” he said. “I look around and I see so much talent, and it’s great to see all my boys that I grew up with getting all these offers and stuff.”
Ruffins grew up playing Pop Warner in different well-known programs including the Long Beach Patriots and the Carson Colts, which meant that walking into Poly on day one as a freshman, he already felt like he was with his family. And with a strong Polynesian history and culture at the school, he fit right in there as well.
“When you come in the first thing you learn about is that culture, the pride that this community takes in this high school and all the history that’s behind it,” he said. “So I’m super proud to help take these steps forward to get Poly back to where it used to be.”
Where Poly used to be is right where they find themselves this week. The Jackrabbits are in the Division 1 quarterfinals, facing off against a Los Alamitos team they defeated for the 2004 Division 1 championship. The Jackrabbits and Griffins are both loaded with top-notch talent, which led Bally Sports to pick it as the televised game of the week. The two teams will meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m. with a trip to the semifinals on the line.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Ruffins. “You see all these big name schools and it’s great to get to play against them, and there’s a lot of opportunities for us in a game like that.”
Ruffins and his crew will be a critical part of the game, needing to both establish the run and to protect Curry from a Griffins line that features five-star defensive lineman TA Cunningham, who has scholarship offers from several SEC programs. Regardless of how the rest of the playoffs go for Poly, Ruffins will have a collegiate career ahead of him--and he’ll have another high school game, too, as he’s been selected to play in the Polynesian Bowl presented by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The game will take place in Hawaii in January and be televised on the NFL Network.