Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011, 6:42 pm

Keppy puts Hawkeye football on back burner

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By Daniel Makarewicz,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Riverdale senior 285-pound wrestler Mitchell Keppy in the locker room at Riverdale High School Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. Keppy is this week's Area Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Keppy is 7-0 this season and pinned his way to the Riverdale Invitational title on Saturday.
Being a University of Iowa football recruit is an obvious topic of conversation, one Riverdale senior wrestler Mitchell Keppy encounters on a daily basis.

"Sometimes it gets annoying," Keppy said. "It puts a little pressure on me."

Then comes the additional pressure Keppy puts on his own shoulders.

While his verbal commitment to the Hawkeyes is not official until February, Keppy is not totally focused on playing football at the next level. Instead, this week's Area Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus wants to grab an elusive state wrestling title that, up to this point, makes his prep career incomplete.

"I definitely wanted it last year and the year before that," said Keppy, a two-time Class 1A 285-pound state runner-up. "Not getting either one of those gives me another big drive for this year to go out there and work my butt off."

Ask any wrestler what drives them and the answer could be unanimous: Winning a state title. Keppy's story is no different than anyone else's, but to truly understand how motivated he is to win, you must examine the past.

Two close, emotional state-title losses are the driving force for this Big Ten football recruit. Two years ago, it was a 3-1 loss to Polo senior Jake Peterson, who lost to Keppy in the sectional finals. Twelve months later, Keppy almost had a first-period pin against Mount Carmel senior Tanner Crum before dropping an 8-3 decision.

"I knew I could have finished them," said Keppy, who is 7-0 this season after winning last Saturday's Riverdale Invitational. "Not getting the state championship definitely killed me."

Right now, Keppy should have no reason to feel down. A scholarship at his dream school rests on the table, and a football career is ready to flourish. Yet, those take a back seat as Keppy works toward something that has been so close.

Keppy is motivated by his past, and the ultimate match that lies ahead.

Hopefully, that is a state title.

"He's definitely wanting it," Riverdale coach Lance Sherman said. "You can just tell by the way he works in the room and by the way he pushes himself."

Coasting is not how Keppy is finishing his prep career. There is a raised determination that the laid-back, almost stoic Keppy is demonstrating this season. Gone are the traditional cowboy boots worn before and after matches, traded for a pair of white socks with the Hawkeye logo on each side.

Focused and wrestling almost with a chip on his shoulder, Keppy's season to this point is highlighted by his second consecutive Riverdale Invitational title. When he finished off his third pin in as many matches to successfully defend his crown, there was hardly a celebratory gesture.

It was simply one more step to the ultimate goal.

"Obviously, it takes hard work and dedication to reach your goals," Keppy said. "That's what I'm working on right now -- staying focused and reaching my goals."

As of now, the singular goal is the state championship. One life-long goal -- an Iowa football scholarship -- is already out of the way, leaving a final obstacle.

How would it feel to get that title? Keppy provides an answer that displays his ultimate character.

"I have to earn it," Keppy said. "I know I can't walk in and do it -- I've got to earn it. I've got to go one match at a time and, hopefully, get that state championship bracket and medal and move onto the next level with a state championship."

Truth be told, Keppy doesn't need a state title to be considered a winner.

Mitchell Keppy

- Favorite college: Iowa
- Favorite food: Steak
- Favorite stocking stuffer: Socks
- Favorite movie: "Fast Five"
- Favorite wrestler: Dan Gable
- Parents: Myron and Lori Keppy, Port Byron

In the running
- Dylan DeShane, Erie-Prophetstown:
Moved to 9-0 after capturing the 182-pound crown at the Riverdale Invitational, his third consecutive individual title at that meet.

- Cassie Reiley, Prophetstown: Went for 42 points in a pair of wins, including 28 in a 50-48 decision over Ridgewood that gave Prophetstown coach Don Robinson his 600th career win.

- Joe Heath, Rockridge: Tallied 37 points and 10 rebounds in the Rockets' West Central North wins over Sherrard and Orion.

- T.J. Lowe, Riverdale: Pinned his way to the 170-pound title at the Riverdale Invitational as he went 3-0 on the day.

- Celina VanHyfte, Annawan: Powered her way to 46 points in a pair of Lincoln Trail Conference wins.

- Tristen Finch and Derrick Morford, Mercer County: Shared most outstanding lower-weight wrestler honors at the Riverdale Invitational.