Favorite athlete: Yianni Diakomihalis
Favorite team: Team USA
Favorite memory competing in sports: Qualifying for states the first time.
Music on mobile device: Almost any type of music
Future plans: Enlist into United States Navy
Words to live by: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”
One goal before turning 30: Have a stable job and a family.
One thing people don’t know about me: I love working on cars.
By Ed Morrone
Before Dan Keller would go on to win 107 wrestling matches at Wissahickon High School, he first had to figure out how to do a push-up.
Like many before him, Keller was indoctrinated into the sport by someone who came before him - in this instance, his older brother, Jon, two years Dan’s senior. However, unlike many of those predecessors, Keller didn’t get his start on the mat as a 5- or 6-year-old. In fact, he originally had no interest in the sport at all.
Then, one day when Dan was in sixth grade, Jon, who had just started wrestling as an eighth grader, came home from a practice and told his brother and parents that the team had a push-up contest against one another. Immediately, a light bulb crackled inside Dan’s cranium.
“Jon was a big, strong kid, and he loved wrestling as much as I loved watching his matches,” Dan said. “He would come home talking about how hard the practices were, and as soon as he mentioned the push-up test, I wanted to see how many I could do.
“I got on the ground and did two. And what that did was drive me to get better. In my mind, if I could do more push-ups, then I could wrestle too.”
Dan may have failed his earliest strength test, but Jon’s newfound love of wrestling rubbed off on the younger brother.
“He brought it out in me, that toughness,” Dan said of his brother. “Being the older brother, he would always pick on me, and him constantly doing that brought out more toughness in me than I ever would have had without him. It gave me a base to start my own career.”
Dan didn’t find much success his first two seasons in seventh and eighth grade. He said he could remember “three or four or five wins, and every other time I got pinned.” But Keller quickly discovered that he enjoyed the discipline of wrestling more than anything else. If he stuck to the plan, the wins would come.
And did they ever.
Keller posted a 44-27 record his first two years, a solid yet unspectacular mark. By his own admission, Keller said he didn’t take wrestling as seriously as he could have at the outset; for example, he would attend offseason workouts and meetings if he had time. Then, on Feb. 24, 2018, Keller lost a 7-0 decision to William Tennent’s Kyle Clements in the first round of districts, ending his season way earlier than expected.
“I’ll remember the name Kyle Clements for the rest of my life, because that match changed who I was as a person and how much time I was willing to put in going forward,” Keller said. “I was devastated after that match, and so that offseason I went to every practice, meeting, run, lift…everything I could to become the best wrestler I could be.”
The work paid off, as Keller made it to states as a junior and senior. He didn’t place, which he admits initially disappointed him, but after some reflection, Keller said he took much more from the lessons wrestling taught him. Perspective showed him that those things he could take from the sport and apply to real life were infinitely more valuable than any win or medal could be.
Keller wrestled most of his senior season at either 195 or 220 pounds, dutifully shifting from different weight classes depending upon where he was needed. In one instance, Wissahickon head coach Anthony Stagliano even moved Keller up to the heavyweight class at a dual meet on Dec. 18 to face off against Hatboro-Horsham star Logan Flynn, who will wrestle in college at West Point. Flynn was at least 20 pounds heavier than Keller, and the former cruised to a 10-1 decision.
“Many coaches probably wouldn’t have done that, but we wanted to see where Dan stood,” Stagliano recalled. “It’s not an easy task, because it’s not like Dan was going from 120 to 126 pounds. He never once complained that he was getting moved up to wrestle the better guy. We challenged him and he didn’t say a peep.”
More than two months later, Keller and Flynn met again, this time at regionals when both weighed 220. Flynn won again, but the score this time around after Keller had been humbled back in December?
“That tells you everything you need to know about Dan Keller,” Stagliano said.
A similar scenario unfolded later in the season. On Feb. 22 in the sectional final, Keller, fresh off missing three weeks due to a chest injury, squared off against Paolo DiSanto of Plymouth Whitemarsh. DiSanto won this match, 13-5; when the two met again in Hershey two weeks later, Keller buckled down and won a 6-4 decision in overtime in what would become the last win of his high school career.
The kid knows a thing or two about resilience and perseverance.
“I’ve been coaching for 35-plus years, and Dan Keller is right at the top of the list of any kid I’ve ever coached,” Stagliano said. “Not just his wrestling record on the mat, but who he is as an individual…they don’t come much better. He had a (heck) of a run.”
Despite the fact that Keller wrestled in the heavier weight classes, Stagliano said Keller isn’t your typical power wrestler who wins with sheer brute force and strength. Instead, Keller relies on his patience, discipline and a phenomenal grip that has been honed by working in landscaping.
“When we were young, my dad told us we were going to have to work for a living,” Keller said. “Nothing would be handed to us. My dad does landscaping and masonry, so I got a job working with him. And I’m not a fan of lifting; I hate pushing weight in a gym, so at work I would take two cinderblocks in my hands and just walk around holding them. So, those two things made me into the wrestler I would become: working hard, and grip strength that came from working without weights.”
Keller is one of just 10 wrestlers in school history to reach the 100-win milestone. However, despite the fact that Keller’s grades are strong and colleges were interested in him as a wrestler, he made the decision that his wrestling career would end with his final Wissahickon match.
The next chapter in Keller’s life will not take him to any college, as he has enlisted in the United States Navy. His great grandfather, as well as both of his grandfathers, served in the Navy, and while Keller’s grades were always solid, he said that more school was not meant to be his calling.
“Sometimes I enjoyed school, particularly math and the sciences,” he said. “But being told to pick up a book and read by someone, that’s just not my strong suit. Originally, not knowing what I wanted to do led me to the military, because there’s so many options. I also love working on cars, so I thought the mechanical field would be a good fit.”
The good thing about the military is they will pay for Keller’s tuition, should he decide to go to school while on active duty, and there are also tuition assistance programs in place for a spouse or children for when Keller is ready to start his own family.
Once his enlistment begins, Keller will be working on planes as an aviation technician. He also mentioned being a big fan of the film Lone Survivor, which recounts a doomed Navy SEAL mission behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Always one to dream big, perhaps one day Keller could aspire to become a special operator like those in the movie.
Aside from his interests in wrestling and mechanics, Keller has been a volunteer firefighter for two years, something he expressed a desire to continue into adulthood. A self-described “self-secluded” person, Keller most enjoys the solitude of doing something outside on his own, whether that’s working on a car, helping his dad with something around the house or going for a long run.
Keller didn’t have a long wrestling run. It lasted six years, but he got more out of those six years than many folks do in 20. Wrestling at Wissahickon helped turn him into the young man he is today, one who is set to enlist in the armed forces and spend the rest of his life fighting for American freedom. Without wrestling pushing him to the limit, who knows where he ends up?
“The thing that stands out the most to me is that hard work pays off and nothing is given to you in life,” he said. “You can’t sit back and do nothing and expect to get the things you want. Coach Stagliano instilled that in me, and I always knew I wanted to do something with my life outside of wrestling. At the same time, wrestling has made me the person I am today.”