Kyle Kelly took visits to schools like Bucknell, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina, but in the end, he decided there was no place like home.
The two-time state champion and Fargo All-American committed to Binghamton on Thursday, joining a star-studded recruiting class that includes a number of the Empire State’s top seniors, such as Zack Zupan, Nick Kelley, Nick Tighe and David Almaviva.
“I don’t know most of those guys personally, but it’s like being on a New York All-Star team,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”
But that wasn’t the only reason that the Chenango Forks standout chose the Bearcats.
“It’s a great wrestling program and a great school,” Kelly said. “It’s close to home and the distance is a pro for me, because my dad’s health is a factor.”
Kelly’s father, Mike, has had a significant impact on Kyle’s life and wrestling.
“My father raised me with that wrestling mentality to be tough,” he said. “He took me to tournaments every weekend in my youth career and raised me to be the wrestler I am today. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
He isn’t the only relative to influence Kelly on the mat.
“I feel really lucky to have [Cornell NCAA champion and five-time New York state champion] Troy Nickerson in my family,” he said. “Watching a great wrestler like him compete and accomplish so much was great. I’ve been surrounded by great wrestlers.”
Kelly said he is looking to implement one of the keys to Nickerson’s success as he embarks upon his senior campaign.
“I’m starting to work a lot more on my front headlock series,” he said. “Troy worked that a lot in high school and college and I’m studying his matches and talking to him about it. I want to have it in my arsenal.”
Judging from his success, there’s already plenty in Kelly’s arsenal. He took fourth place as a freshman and won the state championship as a sophomore and junior at 96/99 pounds. This year, he’s looking for the same end of year result, but at a higher weight class.
“I definitely want to get back to the top of the podium,” he said. “That’s my main goal and what I’m working for all the time, but I also want to improve my technique and get mentally tougher for college. Certifications are next week and I’m still thinking about what I’ll do. I may certify at 106, but I’m thinking that I’ll go 113.”
If Kelly does wrestle at that weight, he may have a rematch with Ward Melville’s Nick Piccininni, a state champion at 106 last year who is now nationally ranked. Piccininni’s last high school loss was in the semifinals at the Times Union Center in 2011 – to Kelly.
“I would definitely like to have another shot with Piccininni,” Kelly said. “He’s a great opponent who has been doing really well. It would be a fun one and the kind of great match up at states that you want to see.”
Kelly knows a lot about great matches in Albany. In each of the past two years, he has trailed in the title bout only to win by earning late back points.
“The first time [in 2011 against Dylan Realbuto] I was losing 4-1 at the end of the first period and I thought to myself that I’d worked too hard and wasn’t going to lose,” he said. “At that point, I turned it around and wound up turning the kid in the third to win the match. The same thing happened in the third period last year [against Wantagh’s Jose Rodriguez]. My strongest point as a wrestler is definitely on top. I feel like I’m in control all the time.”
With the help of many people, he’ll look to continue his dominance as a senior, after a 37-0 campaign in 2011-12. He especially wanted to thank his family, Chenango Forks coach Rick Gumble and training partner Jake Green.
The future 125-pounder will be able to see those individuals often as he moves just 15 minutes down the road to the CAA campus.
“I’m really excited about Binghamton,” he said. “The guys on the team have that work ethic to them that brings success. I really want to be a part of that.”