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Orem • The doctors said he'd never wrestle again.
That's what Millard junior Kaleb Kelly was told when he injured his knee before starting junior high school.
It was "just" a bone fracture, but the trouble was it was on his growth plate. Kelly was forced to take a year off from wrestling, his first passion. And he also had to skip football for a full three years because of the risks.
However, Kelly said he never accepted the grim prognosis. And he learned a lot about himself and about life by going through everything it took to overcome the huge setback.
"I learned that you can't speed up your recovery, no matter how much you want to," Kelly said. "You just have to wait and let it heal."
Kelly is two matches away from repeating as a Class 2A state champion after winning his first two matches at Friday's Class 2A state wrestling meet at the UCCU Center on the Utah Valley University campus. His Millard Eagles sit third in the team standings with 99 points. Delta leads the way with 132, while North Summit is second with 100.
In the 1A team standings, Altamont leads with 138.5 points, followed closely by Duchesne with 134. Monticello is third with 89 points.
One of Kelly's favorite things about wrestling is the mentality that grapplers have to develop.
"This sport teaches so many life lessons," he said. "I learned patience through this process that I doubt I would have had otherwise. I learned to focus on what I can do, not on what I can't or what anyone else does."
Although not a wrestler himself, it was Kaleb's father who first directed him into the sport.
"My dad was a big mixed-martial arts guy," he said. "They don't offer that in high school, so we picked wrestling as the next best thing."
He started actively participating in kindergarten.
As in many small communities, the Eagles take a direct role in developing younger talent.
"The high school kids would come and coach us," Kelly said. "We looked up to them as somebody to be like."
There was one in particular who caught his eye: Brendan Turner, the son of Millard coach Blake Turner. The younger Turner won a pair of state titles in high school, but it was his effort that most impressed Kelly.
"He worked really hard in the weight room," Kelly said. "Then after everybody else had left, he'd still be there doing extra practice. He really inspired me."
Because of the age difference between the two, Kelly's had the chance to follow his mentor through his college career at Northwestern and into the high school coaching ranks.
He said he often thought about Turner as he toiled away, trying to become the successful wrestler that Turner was. Kelly qualified for state as a freshman, finishing fourth at 106 pounds. He captured the state title at 138 last year.
Now, he's two Saturday wins away from equaling Turner's achievement. Plus, he still has another year to build on his legacy since he's only a junior.
But Kelly's not worried about that now. He's focused on the next challenge in front of him.
"It takes a little while to realize that's the way you have to do it," he said.
After all he's been through, he's finally there.
Team standings after Day 1
Class 2A • 1. Delta, 132; 2. North Summit, 100; 3. Millard, 99; 4. North Sevier, 95; 5. South Summit, 90; 6. South Sevier, 70; 7. Beaver, 64; 8. Grand County, 49.0; 9. Enterprise, 45; 10. Emery, 37; 11. Kanab, 35; 12. Gunnison Valley, 30; 13. San Juan, 15; 14. Manti, 13; 15. Summit Academy, 4
Class 1A • 1. Altamont, 138.5; 2. Duchesne, 134; 3. Monticello, 89; 4. Panquitch, 85.5;5. Milford, 30; 6. Bryce Valley, 22; (tie) Rich, 22; 8. Wayne, 20;9. Parowan, 18; 10. Monument Valley, 4; (tie) Whitehorse, 4
• Millard junior is aiming to win a second straight state title after overcoming a career-threatening injury he suffered five years ago.
• Won his first-round match with a pin in 26 seconds. He won the second by technical fall 16-1 in the second round. Sometime during that bout, he lost some skin off his nose but didn't even notice until long after the action was over.
• Was able to resume playing football after years away from the sport and contributed on both sides of the ball. He rushed 57 times, caught eight passes, including one touchdown, and was third on the team in tackles with 29.