The perfect storm for a rowdy suburban household may be the combination of three active and athletic brothers living under the same roof. Now imagine all three of those brothers currently wrestling for Division 1 universities with programs ranked in the nation’s top 20.
That’s certainly a recipe for plenty of nicks and bruises.
“We would rough-house a lot when we were younger,” redshirt freshman Matt Kelliher said. “I’m sure that got me a lot better at wrestling. Just getting the crap beat out of me.”
Brothers Tom and Matt Kelliher are both wrestlers on the University of Wisconsin squad with the middle brother, Craig, a wrestler at Central Michigan.
Eldest child Tom, a fifth-year senior, is in his final season as a Badger and has posted a 5-8 dual match record competing in the 141-pound and 133-pound weight classes. The youngest brother, Matt, is redshirting his first season on the team.
Like the Watt brothers playing for the UW football team, the Kellihers have made an impact on Badger wrestling with more than one family member. Tom says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love having him here,” Kelliher said. “Hopefully, I’m helping motivate him a little bit, but it helps motivate me too with trying to set a good example [by] being an older brother.”
Tom and Matt wrestling together at UW is not the first time the brothers have competed side-by-side. They both began wrestling before they were even in the first grade, and all three brothers have participated in youth wrestling leagues together their whole lives.
Growing up, Tom and Craig wrestled each other often, while the smaller Matt refrained from joining in the head-to-head sibling rivalry until he grew to an appropriate size in high school.
The Kellihers were well prepared coming out of high school to their respective colleges – the brothers attended Apple Valley High School in Burnsville, Minn., whose wrestling program has been crowned state champions 19 times since 1983. Tom was four-time state runner-up, while Matt was state champion his final three years of high school.
Tom and Matt now could be easily confused as twins, both wrestling at 133-pound and within an inch of each other’s height, while Craig is competing at the 174-pound weight class at Central Michigan. Tom said he and Matt now wrestle once or twice a week against each other.
Head coach Barry Davis said that their presence makes both of the brothers better.
“They’re very close,” Davis said. “They support each other on the mat and off the mat. They’re great academic students too. It’s a very positive relationship in and out of the room.”
The Kellihers’ involvement with wrestling has been a complete family affair, with their father and two uncles wrestling throughout high school. The Kelliher brothers’ father coached his sons at early ages, and both he and his wife Kelliher were heavily involved in booster clubs of their sons’ youth wrestling organizations.
“As weird as it sounds, it was kind of when we spent family time together,” Tom said. It was always around wrestling.”
The Kelliher brothers had always bonded growing up playing a variety of sports together, but Matt had to choose one when deciding on where to attend school. Knowing that he wanted to wrestle on a team with one of his older brothers, he picked Wisconsin for its programs in both wrestling and engineering. Now on the same collegiate team, Matt and Tom spend a great deal of time together on and off the mat.
Another decision that all three brothers made was choosing wrestling instead of the other sports they played. When the Kellihers all reached high school, it was a relatively easy choice for them to drop their fringe sports and concentrate on wrestling.
“When we were younger, it would be football season and baseball season, but it was always kind of a countdown to wrestling season,” Tom said. “It was always the sport we excelled at, that was the one we cared most about. Everything was kind of built around wrestling.”
Tom and Matt are in very different places in their college wrestling careers. While Tom is headed into the home stretch of his final year as a Badger, Matt is still learning skills in order to become a four-year starter like his older brother. Matt said competing on the same collegiate team with his brother has helped both of them develop as wrestlers.
“We both help each other a lot,” Matt said. “We’ve not only just been on the same team but we’re around the same size for our entire lives, so we’ve just kind of been partners and we know how each other wrestle. It’s good for us.”