Kellen Staton began wrestling when he was 4.
At the time, he wasn’t part of an organized team, but went to the Seneca Spartans little league practices with his brother and father to work on moves along the side wall.
Soon, Spartans coach and current Seneca Valley assistant Mario Ellis found Staton a singlet and he began wrestling for real.
Staton won his first match.
“His first exhibition match, he actually won,” Ellis said. “The team won, too, and wrestled the same team next week. Kellen didn’t want to do that because he already beat that kid, so he wanted to wrestle somebody else. He wanted a new challenge.”
This season, the Seneca Valley senior 160-pound grappler has continued the trend of setting the bar high for himself. He finished third in last year’s Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association state tournament and he’s hoping for bigger things in 2013.
“I didn’t realize how well I would do [in last year’s state tournament],” Staton said. “I placed third and realized I was a lot better than most kids in the state. And I realized I was a lot better than I thought I was. I think this year I could win a state title.”
Staton is the unquestioned leader of the Screaming Eagles — a three-year captain and a driving force behind a majority of the team’s points this season. Seneca Valley remains without a dual meet win this year, but that hasn’t stopped Staton from changing the way he approaches his captaincy.
“It really starts with my work ethic. I feel like I can lead the other kids. I’m trying to push them,” Staton said. “I was a little bit more immature last year and I didn’t realize how much talent and potential some of these kids have. This year, I’ve started realizing that and trying to push them to win.
“Plus, I kind of don’t like going to states by myself.”
Screaming Eagles coach Mike Johnson also has noticed a significant change in Staton’s work ethic and approach in the room this season compared to last. He’s lost only once as a senior — to Northern’s Eric Hoffman — and holds an 89-31 record overall at Seneca.
“He’s leading more by example this year,” Johnson said. “I don’t see him loafing, ever. If he’s running, he’s running hard. I don’t see him fooling around on the mat or doing the little things I’ve seen him do in the past.”
In his sophomore season, Staton struggled to maintain a consistent routine. He failed to make weight at the county tournament and limped through the postseason.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I was younger, but I wasn’t really small, so I was wrestling a lot of seniors and it was hard,” Staton said. “It was so difficult to win the match. It was a lot easier to let them win.”
Staton cited losing to James H. Blake’s Eddie Madden as his most stinging defeat to this day, but remains optimistic regarding his chances for the remainder of this season.
Staton hopes to play football in college, but said if he receives an offer from a good school, he’d be happy wrestling as well. So far, the University of Maryland, College Park, Gettysburg, Mercersburg and Sacred Heart all have contacted him in one way or another.
“Once you hit the 160-pound weight class in a dual meet, you know we’re going to get the win there,” Johnson said. “Once he gets on the mat and gets that win, everybody wants to follow. Everybody seems to want to wrestle a little bit harder just to try and keep the momentum that he starts building.”