Shenendehowa’s Nick Kelley has achieved quite a bit in his athletic career. He was a taekwondo national champion when he was 10 and was also successful in judo. And he has piled up numerous medals in wrestling, ranging from his trips to the podium at the New York state tournament (fourth at 130 in 2011 and third at 132 in 2012) to his All-America performances (third at NHSCA Freshman Nationals at 125, fifth at FloNationals as a sophomore and fourth at Fargo this past summer in freestyle at 132 pounds). But when asked what he considered to be his best accomplishment to date, he didn’t hesitate.
And he didn’t choose any of the previously mentioned accolades.
“I think it’s committing to great college like Binghamton and getting ready to take the next step,” he said.
The Section 2 star’s verbal to the Bearcats gave Coach Matt Dernlan and his staff the pledges of two of the Empire State’s top seniors, as Canastota’s Zack Zupan committed a few weeks ago. The competition for Kelley, Intermat’s #93 ranked recruit nationally, was fierce, as he gave consideration to Iowa, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and North Carolina State before informing the Binghamton coaches on Friday that he would be staying in his home state after graduation.
“It’s a really good fit for me,” Kelley said of the CAA institution. “The coaches have the same philosophy as me – working hard and working smart. I like the campus, the program and the coaches. Really, I like everything about it. I feel like the staff really cares about the wrestlers. I know there will be some tough New York kids there and we think we can make some real noise across the country.”
The future Business major is first concerned with making noise for one more season as a member of the Plainsmen. He emerged on the Empire State wrestling scene as a seventh grader when he qualified for the state tournament. Over the years, he has won over 200 matches and several Section 2 titles. In his mind, there’s only one thing missing.
“The main focus is definitely to win states this year,” Kelley said, adding that he will likely compete at 138 pounds. “I am completely focused on winning a state title.”
As a junior, Kelley compiled an impressive 45-1 record, with 40 bonus point wins. His sole setback was a one-point semifinal defeat in Albany against eventual state champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler Jamel Hudson, now a freshman at Hofstra.
“I think I was good at states, but not my best,” Kelley said. “I put all my athleticism out there and I wrestled hard, but I could’ve wrestled smarter, especially in the semifinals. I kept going after him and made some mistakes doing it.”
Going after opponents throughout the match is characteristic of Kelley’s style, one that has been fostered in the Shenendehowa room and at the Journeymen Wrestling Club.
“Our room is so tough and competitive,” Kelley said. “It has been since seventh grade and it’s helped me so much. I kept getting better and stronger by wrestling the bigger guys and the older guys and with workout partners like [2012 New York third place finisher and Fargo All-American David] Almaviva. Now, after all these years, I feel like I’m one of the stronger guys.”
He certainly is, but he believes it will take more to reach his ultimate high school goal.
“I’ve been wrestling a ton since the season ended,” Kelley said. “I got a lot of matches at the Disney Duals in Florida and at Fargo and training camps. I’ve been working with Journeymen and coaches Rob Weeks and Frank Popolizio. I’ve been running and getting stronger. I’ve also spent a lot of time focusing on my match strategy.”
Kelley has still found time to paint houses over the summer with Weeks. And he often finds good spots to engage in another of his favorite activities – fishing. In fact, he was on the water while answering questions for this story. But while he said that he loves fishing, few things compare to wrestling.
“My dad got me into combat sports early – I think I started when I was three,” he said. “Taekwondo and judo helped me with balance and core strength and they made me tougher. But I stopped those other sports by eighth grade to focus on wrestling. To me, wrestling is the best. It’s harder and requires so much commitment. You can’t stop working. I’m doing everything I can to get ready for the season and I can’t wait to do some damage in college.”