Don’t think for a moment that Arab wrestling coach Michael Pruitt isn’t itching to get back to the winner’s circle.

His team finished second by 8.5 points in the state tournament earlier this year, snapping a string of six straight titles (among seven overall). Arab also for the first time in three years didn’t win the state duals champ-ionship.

Now, he faces the task of rebuild-ing his staff after the recent departures of assistants Britt Shaw and Justin Keiffer. Shaw, in particular, is a tough loss as he had become Pruitt’s right-hand man by the end of his eight-year stay in Arab.

It may seem the arrow is trending down for Arab wrestling, but don’t tell that to Pruitt. He looks at the dip (if you can call a state runnerup finish a dip) as a time to refocus and re-energize.

“We are focusing on our next school year right now and fighting our way back to the top as state champions this next season,” he said last week. “That’s why this month of June is so important because it symbolizes the end of last season/year and the beginning of our new one and our quest for another state dual championship and another traditional state championship.

“That’s why the Wyoming Cowboy Wrestling Camp (two weeks ago) was so important, and why the OTAs (organized training activities) at Gardendale last Wednesday – with them, Jasper and Minor – and our home OTA Thursday with Pell City and Springville were huge as well.”

As far as Pruitt is concerned, the trip back to the mountaintop isn’t necessarily a long one.

“We finished 8.5 points out of first this past time,” he said. “We win one more match, we’re celebrating a state title.”

The Knights also lost to region rival Scottsboro in the duals tournament. Scottsboro went on to win the 5A championship.

While several of their main threats had heavy graduation losses, the Knights lost just three – albeit important ones. Still, Pruitt likes what he sees of this next team.

“We have a lot of depth 170 pounds and up,” he said, “and we have a lot of really good young wrestlers.”

As for the coaching staff, Pruitt said he has no worries.

“We have nucleus of coaches in Klay Cranford, Scott Cleland and myself, and I have faith in our administration to get the right people for our program,” Pruitt said, noting that Superintendent John Mullins hired Shaw eight years ago when Joe Stephenson retired.

“So, we have a good nucleus of wrestlers and coaches coming back. We should be stronger.”

As for Pruitt himself, he’s looking forward to teh challenge. He still loves teaching. He still loves coaching youngsters.

And he still yearns to produce a championship team, like he did when he took the job 24 years ago.

“I love what I do,” he said. “And I’m ready for whatever lies ahead.”

See page 10 for a story and photos from the team’s trip to Wyoming for camp.

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