STEUBENVILLE - Steubenville Big Red senior wrestler Charlie Keenan had a brilliant junior season in which he won 40 matches and finished as runner-up at 195 pounds, becoming the first Big Red wrestler in over 15 years to reach the state finals.
Keenan turned that season into an opportunity to wrestle on the Division I level after his high school career ends by signing with the nationally-ranked Kent State Golden Flashes to wrestle at 197 pounds and follow in the footsteps of one of the nation's best collegiate wrestlers.
"Charlie definitely looked around," said Big Red head coach Mike Blackburn. "Ever since he was state runner-up last year he's gotten letters from numerous schools. He went to a couple camps this summer, and he traveled around with some people.
HE’S A?GOLDEN?FLASH — Big Red’s Charlie Keenan, flanked by his mother Jane Hanlin and his father Charlie Keenan, will continue his academic and wrestling careers at Kent State University. Also in attendance are Big Red head wrestling coach Mike Blackburn and assistant wrestling coach Cornell Birden.
"I think when he went on Kent's campus the coaching staff welcomed him with open arms, and he had a great time up there. Kent has a great campus and a great program.
"Kent State is top 15 in the country this year, and I think this is an exciting thing because it's the weight class senior Dustin Kilgore's in. He's the defending national champ coming back this year. That's got to be exciting for Charlie."
Added Keenan of his decision to attend Kent State, "I was going on some visits and I ended up going to Kent. I stayed with their team, spent the night, and I really liked the campus. It just felt like a home for me.
"They have a really good wrestling program, and it was just the best fit for me to go to college there."
Though he was being looked at by other schools, becoming a Golden Flash just felt right to Keenan.
"I was looking at Purdue and Edinboro a little bit, but when I went to Kent it just clicked," he said. "It was where I wanted to be."
Added Blackburn, "I know he was talking to Edinboro and a couple other schools. I just think he fell in love when he went up there and met the coaches and saw the campus.
"I think it's a great fit for Charlie. Physically and ability wise he's young. He has four or five years at Kent where they can mold him into a great college wrestler."
Signing before the start the season allows Keenan, who was named pre-season All-American Honorable Mention by several publications and was named All-Ohio for his academic achievements, to focus solely on his senior year on the mat.
"Wrestling is more mental than anything," said Blackburn. "I think this takes a lot of pressure off him because he knows where he's going, he loves the school he's going to, and he can focus strictly on taking care of the business of becoming the OVAC and state champions."
Added Keenan, "It helps a little bit. I didn't want to worry about colleges all year. I just want to win state at the end of the year. I had a main goal in the beginning, and it doesn't change. I still have the same goals."
According to Blackburn, Keenan is someone any coach would want on their team, his work ethic is second to none, and he's a well-rounded young man.
"You couldn't ask for any kind of athlete who is better," he said. "He's great in the classroom, he's great in the wrestling room.
"You look over at Charlie when he's wrestling Greg (Moray) and those guys and he's dripping with sweat. He's always a hard worker and he's just a great kid."
Keenan credits both his coaches and his teammates for his success and the opportunity he has been given with Kent State.
"Our coaching is great with our drilling, and we have great partners," he said. "We were fifth in the state as a team last year. I had Davon Wicker and Greg Moray work with me all year and Coach Blackburn and Coach Birden are working with me constantly."
He is also quick to credit his family for their role in all his success.
"Definitely my parents have helped the most," Keenan said. "My dad has been wrestling with me since I was four years old. My mom's been there every day cooking meals and being at every match. My grandparents are always there so I have my whole family behind me.
"My family teaches me the right way to go about things, and that's who I look up to."
When it's all said and done Keenan wants two things every high school wrestler in the state wants.
"I want to win the state tournament, but I really don't want to lose any matches if that's possible," he said. "I'm going to try not to lose. I just want to keep winning."