The 2020-21 Utah County Boys Wrestlers of the Year Eli and Radi Stafford are no ordinary teenagers, and not even ordinary state champion wrestlers.
Both twin brothers have kept themselves really busy the past several months joining the Utah Army National Guard in the summer between their junior and senior years in high school.
Then they both graduated early from Mountain View High School so both could participate in the Guard’s Advanced Training in Aviation Operations. But in between both of these assignments, both won individual state titles in wrestling. And Eli did it while also competing on the Bruin basketball team this winter.
“About the only thing similar between wrestling and basketball is the stance you get into while playing defense in basketball,” Eli Stafford said. “Honestly, I was out there (in basketball) for my aggression in playing defense and getting rebounds.”
Radi Stafford, who also played basketball for three years in the Bruin program, had this perspective:
“I think in both sports you need stamina and you need to be smart,” Radi Stafford said. “In basketball you work together as a team, but in wrestling you still have a team but work more as an individual. It’s up to you in wrestling.”
Radi Stafford, who finished the season with a 32-1 overall record, didn’t exactly always love the sport of wrestling.
“I started when I was four and I didn’t like it much,” Radi Stafford said. “My mom was instrumental in why I stuck with it. I owe a lot of my success to my mom.”
Eli and Radi’s mother Maren Stafford is actually the head girls coach at the school. And before she married their father Rick Stafford, she grew up in the Legas family.
The Legas name is well known in wrestling circles. Eli and Radi Stafford are first cousins to Cooper Legas, a 2-time state champion for Orem and their uncles Tad and Adam Legas (Cooper’s father) were successful wrestlers in the 1990s with Tad Legas also being a state champion in the Bruin program.
It should be noted that the basketball prowess probably comes from their father Rick Stafford, who is also an assistant principal at the school. Rick Stafford played professional basketball in Europe and other locations overseas.
Both Eli and Radi Stafford had redemption stories in their journey to the top of the podium in 2021.
Eli Stafford (32-4) actually placed second in the divisional tournament losing to Timpview’s Cael Richardson by major decision. But at the state meet, Eli Stafford turned the tables to pin Richardson to claim the title.
The 220-pound weight division was arguably the deepest weight class in 5A this year. To climb to the top of the podium, Eli Stafford had to navigate through a weight class that featured the returning state champ in East’s Sau Tafisi, the returning state runner-up in Richardson, and three other returning state placers in Payson’s Braxton Monroe, Timpanogos’ Breyden Jorgensen, and Box Elder’s Carson Lancaster.
For Radi Stafford (182 pounds), his redemption story is a bit deeper.
Last season Radi Stafford made the championship finals but in the last few seconds in his match with eventual state champion Andrew Jensen of Maple Mountain, Radi Stafford threw a punch in frustration. He was disqualified from the tournament and all the points he earned for his team were stripped away. But this season Radi Stafford went to work both mentally and physically to earn his gold medal.
Radi Stafford’s weight class was also very deep and included the aforementioned Jensen, and returning state placers that included Timpview’s Conner Morris, Woods Cross’ Christian Smoot and Wasatch’s Kolby Cluff. Radi had to defeat Smoot in the semifinals and Morris in the championship match.
“His redemption story is epic,” said Eli Stafford of his brother. “I’m proud of him.”
As twins, both seem to feed off the successes and trials of each other.
“I get super nervous watching my twin,” Eli Stafford said. “I either get super hyped when he’s doing well or more nervous and frustrated when he’s doing bad.”
It’s much the same for Radi Stafford.
“With me wrestling, whatever happens, happens,” Radi Stafford said. “But with him, it’s nerve-wracking. I can’t control things.”
Both said that competing in wrestling has helped them get through some of the demands of basic training in the Army National Guard.
“I did well in my basic training and with all the fitness tests,” Eli Stafford said. “Wrestling and my constant moving and being active definitely helped.”
“There are definitely things in basic training that are easier than wrestling. But there’s also things in military training that are harder than wrestling,” Radi Stafford said. “I think wrestling definitely prepared me.”
Both Eli and Radi Stafford want to be pilots and they both see themselves being in the military for the long haul, not just the 6-year commitment.
“I have always wanted to be a pilot,” Eli Stafford said. “My grandpa and his brother were pilots. The National Guard is giving me a great opportunity,” Eli said.
Radi Stafford said: “I’ve mapped out a career path. The guard can bring me a good stable job and retirement after 20 years. I plan on staying with it. It’s been a good time.”
Both brothers plan to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and one of the reasons they chose the Army National Guard over the Air National Guard was that the Army National Guard would accommodate their 2-year religious service.
During their time at Mountain View, the brothers had plenty of quality coaches including two different head coaches and an assistant coach and athletic director that brought different things to the table.
“(Former) head coach (Ross) Taylor gave me a technical foundation and (current head) coach (Hank) Weiss really gave me the aggressiveness to get to where I wanted to be,” Eli Stafford said.
Radi Stafford echoed the sentiments of his brother, saying: “I’m very grateful for all my coaches. Coaches Taylor, Blevins and Weiss all really helped me. They pushed me and really made me better every season.”