Prep’s Kelly reaches milestones, but has only one goal in mind

Alec Kelly started wrestling when he was just 4 years old, but he already had been grappling a bit at home.
You see, Alec has a younger brother, Michael, who is two years younger. So the Kelly brothers used to wrestle with each other in the living room of their Wood-Ridge home. It was just the beginning.
“We were too young then for the recreation program,” Alec Kelly said. “But I really wanted to wrestle.”
Soon after, Alec Kelly went to his first organized wrestling club, headed by famed Hackensack High School wrestler Rich Bitetto.
“He trained me and my brother for like 10 years,” Alec Kelly said of Bitetto, whose younger brother Chris became a state champion at Hackensack and later became the head coach at Don Bosco Prep.
“Mike and I kept throwing each other around,” Kelly said. “We really benefitted from it, having a brother to drill with. I think it took a lot of pressure off me, because I knew that Mike looked up to me. It felt good to have someone at home working with me. I wasn’t going into wrestling rooms alone.”
When the time came for Alec to select a high school, he picked St. Peter’s Prep. It helped that his uncle Mike was already the head basketball coach there. Mike Kelly, a Jersey City police captain, has since stepped down as Prep head basketball coach.
“Uncle Mike told me to come take a look at the school,” Alec Kelly said. “I came to Prep and just loved the place. I loved the campus and you can’t beat the education.”
Kelly also liked the wrestling program, which had begun to carve its niche as one of the best programs in all of New Jersey.
“The wrestling team was incredible,” Kelly said. “It was perfect for me.”
Kelly soon fit in instantly with his Marauder teammates.
“We had a great bond together with the team,” Kelly said. “I loved the team.”
Kelly also had a spot in the varsity lineup right away as a 106-pounder, eventually going on to capture the NJSIAA Region 4 championship at that weight class.
“I remember at that time, [Assistant] Coach [Ed] Roselle told me that I was the first Prep freshman to ever win the region title,” Kelly said. “Because of him, I put it in my mind that I had a chance to win three more. He said, ‘So go get it done.’ I really wasn’t thinking about becoming the first Prep wrestler to win four. It wasn’t a goal of mine. But it just happened.”
Last weekend, at the Region 4 tournament at West Orange High School, Kelly had his chance to dance with destiny.
Kelly won all three matches he wrestled in, including a 4-1 decision over James Murdoch of Clifton, to earn the Region 4 tourney title at 132 pounds.
With that victory, Kelly improved to 36-1 on the season and won his fourth straight Region 4 gold medal, the first-ever in the storied history of the St. Peter’s Prep wrestling program.
Kelly had previously knocked Tony Pafumi off the pedestal as the school’s all-time leader in wrestling wins, having done so in last week’s District 16 tournament at North Bergen, collecting win No. 139 over his career.
Now, Kelly had the distinction of being the first four-time region champ as well.
For his achievements, Kelly has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Kelly finished third in each of the last two NJSIAA state tournaments, so he heads to Atlantic City this weekend with some bigger fish to fry.
“Just one loss in the semifinals each time set me back,” Kelly said. “In each of the last two years. All I have to do is win four more matches to get my state title.”
St. Peter’s Prep has crowned three previous state champions — Lenny Richardson, James Fox, and Christian Colucci last year.
“No more third place,” Kelly said. “I got the name ‘Mr. Wrestleback,’ for wrestling back and getting third. It’s not a bad name to have, but I’d rather not have it this weekend.”
First-year Prep head wrestling coach Brian Innis believes that Kelly has the makings of a state champion. His brother, Kevin, fell one point shy of a state crown in 2010.
“At this stage, at this level, he has the right mindset going into Atlantic City,” Innis said of Kelly. “No matter who you wrestle, it’s going to be one of the best in the state. You don’t have an easy match in the states. All season long, I’ve looked at Alec and said that I could see him on the top of the podium. This is a moment long overdue. It’s there for him for the taking.”
Innis likes the way that Kelly had a bit of a weight issue earlier in the season – and his teammates opened the door for him to wrestle at 132 without the wrestle-off competitions between teammates.
“He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve tried to get down to the weight,’” Innis said. “He said, ‘Can I bump up to 132 (pounds)? He was really struggling to get down to 126. We have such a great group of guys on the team who wanted to bump up to help Kelly out.”
One in particular, Matt Russo, went from 132 pounds to 145, a substantial leap.
“That’s a pretty big sacrifice,” Kelly said. “I can’t thank him enough. It was really humbling to me to have a teammate make that sacrifice.”
“Everything just fell into place,” Innis said. “It was like the stars aligned.”
“I wanted to enjoy my senior year,” Kelly said. “Weight played a huge role in how I felt last year. I had to first worry about making weight, then worry about wrestling. I’m just more comfortable at 132. I feel like I’m a better wrestler there. Weight is not a factor.”
Kelly has enjoyed a spectacular senior year, posting a 36-1 record. He now has a 144-15 career mark heading toward the state championships in Atlantic City.
“He’s spent most of this season confident and comfortable,” Innis said. “Making weight is not a problem. He’s our workhorse. He’s confident at 132 and comfortable with the decision. He’s wrestling the best I’ve ever seen him.”
There’s another interesting item. Kelly’s little brother, sophomore 103-pounder Michael Kelly, won the Region 4 gold medal as well, the first time two brothers from Prep ever won the Region tournament on the same day. Michael Kelly destroyed Kenny Kerwin of Passaic Valley, 14-0, in the 106-pound title bout.
“I’m glad I was able to go out on top with my little brother,” Alec Kelly said. “It’s good to see him win this one. He’s following in my footsteps.”
Those lessons in the Kelly family living room have certainly paid dividends.
There is a third Prep Region 4 champion in 138-pound junior Nick Santos, who defeated Matthew Dallara of Hasbrouck Heights, 6-1, in the title bout, giving the Marauders three Region 4 champs.
“It’s amazing how fast this has all happened,” Kelly said. “It seems like just yesterday I was competing in the Regions and now I’ve won it four times. It still hasn’t settled in. It’s crazy. I honestly never expected any of this. I’m honestly humble about it. I didn’t think I’d have half the accolades I’ve received and what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
Kelly, headed to Columbia University to wrestle in the fall, has only one thing left to accomplish. And it won’t be named here. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

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