A year ago, Niko Bussell walked off the mat at Alltech Arena with a runner-up finish.

On Saturday, all of Bussell’s hard work paid off as he pinned Union County’s Darius Moore in the third period for his first state title and the Colonels’ second in as many seasons.

“It feels great,” he said. “I came up short last year and I finally did it. I’m really happy, I know it doesn’t seem like it.”

Bussell is the type of athlete that lets his play do the talking and after pinning four of his five opponents last weekend, he said a lot.

“It shows what coach Damien Leavell said, ‘if you don’t work, you don’t eat,’ ” CCHS coach Robert Burnham said. “That means you’re not going to be successful unless you put in the work and Niko’s put in the work.”

Bussell said he wasn’t sure what to do when he heard the official’s hand hit the mat.

“It was just a rush at first,” he said. “I knew it was over when I heard the whistle blow at the end. I just couldn’t believe it. I was just like ‘I did it.’ ”

After receiving his medal and plaque, Bussell could be seen squeezing his new piece of hardware. He said he was not letting it go anytime soon.

“It’s been my goal to win state since freshman year and I just finally did it,” he said. “I got second last year but it feels good holding it (first-place plaque).”

To be a champion, one has to give up different things.

For Bussell, that rang true.

“I was 100% all into wrestling,” he said. “I had to make sacrifices with my loved ones but again it’s worth it. It was worth it.”

Bussell joins an elite group as a state champion on a Colonel team that placed high at state.

He said it’s something he’ll never forget.

“It makes me feel good,” he said. “Like I was a part of something we haven’t done in a while.”

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