Mitchell Keppy has a sharp focus. Wrestling and competing with the eye of the tiger contradict his laid-back demeanor.|
Standing seven wins from an elusive state championship that has slipped through his fingers the past two seasons, Keppy, the second-ranked 285-pound Riverdale senior wrestler, is all work and no talk during the final moments of his last wrestling hoorah.
So when it comes time to chat with a future University of Iowa football teammate, the chatter has to wait.
"I've got to get past state," Keppy said. "Then, we'll talk."
Reid Sealby is no teammate. The top-ranked Byron senior is a stumbling block.
Already this season, Sealby, ranked No. 1 in the latest Illinois Best Weekly Class 1A state poll, has given Keppy his only loss. What adds to the intrigue is both are competing in this weekend's Byron Sectional with a possible match in the championship.
On top of that, each recently signed national letters-of-intent with Iowa football, meaning next year, these rivals become teammates.
Small world, indeed.
"He seems like a really cool guy," Sealby said. "He's a huge dude, so I'm excited about him being a teammate."
The path toward becoming teammates is the most interesting part of the story. Sealby never figured he would play collegiate football, so continuing his wrestling career was his primary focus. Still, he sent football tapes to prospective colleges and kept in contact with coaches.
Sealby's future changed with one match at the Princeton Invitational on Jan. 7. Facing the then-top-ranked Keppy in the finals, Sealby scored a 3-2 decision win that, at the time, was considered a major upset.
"You could see afterward that he wasn't happy," Sealby said. "I know he wanted to be an undefeated state champ. I know he's got the fire to get the state title."
After suffering his only loss this season, Keppy changed his practice approach, but also contacted the Iowa football coaches. Seeing the strength and quickness Sealby possessed, Keppy told them to take a look at his rival.
Pretty soon, the Hawkeyes' interest in Sealby grew.
"Phone calls started," Sealby said. "They started acting more interested. Never in a million years did I expect a scholarship."
Nearly a month passed before Sealby knew his future destination. Last weekend, he took a visit to the Air Force Academy, and almost committed to the school before receiving a phone call late Tuesday night.
Iowa offered a football scholarship.
"Pretty crazy," Sealby said. "I talked it over with my parents, changed my mind and called (Iowa) coach (Kirk) Ferentz and commited there."
Once Sealby and Keppy signed Wednesday morning, they became teammates.
"It's very special that you have two of the kids who wrestle each other all season and compete against each other compete on the same team in college," Keppy said. "It's definitely something special."
Both Keppy and Sealby admit there is a time and place for a celebratory phone call or text. That will wait two weeks once the state tournament is over.
A state championship is the ultimate goal, and neither will let anything get in the way of that dream.
"I haven't talked to him," Sealby said. "Being (Nos.) 1 and 2 in the state, we're not on talking terms. The last time I talked to him is when we were on the podium at the Princeton."
Maybe a short conversation can start this weekend. Based on the bracket, they would meet in the sectional title match.
"Off the mat, we can become friends and get to know each other," Keppy said. "On the mat, it's going to be totally different. I'm very competitive and hate to lose. It's going to be a big difference wrestling him."
For a second time, at least. Should the two meet for a second time, Keppy is ready. In their earlier meeting, it was the first time Keppy wrestled a full six-minute match. Sealby took advantage, staying on the defensive to force the bout to continue and taking advantage of a bad shot by Keppy to get a critical two-point takedown.
Since the loss, Keppy said his workouts and practices have taken "a 360-degree change." He's focused on conditioning and improved shots, knowing Sealby is prepared for his respected headlock.
"It's going to be a big difference from me at Princeton to me at sectionals," Keppy said.
Sealby believes it will be, too. Knowing that, he is preparing to face Keppy two more times since each is expected to wrestle for the state title.
If the ultimate match happens, Sealby hopes it ends in his favor so he won't have to hear about a loss for four years.
"It would be nice to have that edge," Sealby said.
Keppy shares the same feelings, opening up for once about being teammates with a rival.
"I want to have the bragging rights going into college," Keppy said. "If I do lose, it's still going to be fun being teammates with him."
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