Imagine setting a goal so high for yourself that you may have a better chance at being drafted to the NFL or winning the lottery. That is exactly the type of goals wrestling coaches, like brothers Kevin Keaton and Brad Keaton, want to hear coming from their wrestling room. Standing on the podium at the Ohio High School Wrestling State Championships is something that few achieve in their wrestling career. It’s the pinnacle of success for young wrestlers, a goal they chase in year round training, pushing themselves to become the best. To be prepared for such a high level of competition, wrestlers must push themselves day after day in the gym and on the mat. It’s a level of dedication that is simply too much for most- but not for Circleville High School Senior wrestler Caleb Brooks. Caleb has enjoyed the sweet success of being a 4-time State Placer. Aside from his success on the State stage, winning a hard fought 3rd place this year, Caleb also recently competed at the prestigious National High School Coach Association National Tournament in Virginia Beach where he finished 4th, losing only by a combined 4 points. Next he tested himself at Tournament of Champions and brought home 1st, after 6 long bouts, a huge win that marked a sweet end to a high school career. Oddly, Caleb will tell you that he is not satisfied with his showing. It wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more. He wanted to be the undisputed Best.
After tagging along to dozens of tournaments with his Dad Trent, who was the Head Wrestling Coach at Canal Winchester at the time, young Caleb wanted a piece of the action. But Coach Dad didn’t think he was ready for the pressures of the sport, but like most young kids who don’t tolerate no for an answer, through tears, five-year-old Caleb made a promise to his Dad that if he would let him wrestle that he would always do whatever it takes to be the best, and that he would never give up. Trent relented; he could have mat time. At his first wrestling match shortly after that promise was made, 5 year old Caleb was placed in the youngest division, which was six and seven year olds, and he brought home second place. His destiny was sealed; he was now a wrestler, and one that has fought hard to honor that promise made so many years ago.
To the Brooks, wrestling is a family affair. Trent Brooks had a long career in the sport including placing at the Ohio State tournament during his time at Watkins Memorial High School. Later he wrestled for the Army National Team, where a severe shoulder injury would end his career.
His coaches, peers, and trainers all agree that Caleb has something special that sets him apart from the pack… he never stops pushing. On and off the mat, Caleb is not happy with anything less than the best he can put out. Circleville Wrestling Coach Brad Keaton said that Caleb “will graduate high school as one of the most honored wrestlers in the history of the program.” Keaton added “Caleb never takes a day off,” and that “no one can outwork him.” This is indeed the attitude of a champion, who made an oath, to become one of the greatest wrestlers his generation has known. The tiny, five year old Caleb, had no idea at the time, that he would become, just that.
Coming off a very successful grade school and middle school career including multiple state championships and national awards, Caleb began his high school career at Bishop Ready where his dad had become the head wrestling coach. His 9th and 10th grade years brought him to the one of the biggest stages, the Ohio High School State Championships, where he earned a respectable 8th place as a freshman, and 5th place as a sophomore.
At the conclusion of his 10th grade year, both Caleb and Trent saw the need for a change to reach the goals Caleb had set. Faced with the realization that his dad would no longer be his Coach, Caleb began evaluating where he would finish his high school wrestling career. Options included the prestigious Saint Paris Graham, who has now won 18 straight state team titles. While reflecting on his journey, Caleb thought about the many years before highschool and the teammates that he helped make great and who pushed him to improve. With that in mind Caleb made the obvious move; he headed to the only wrestling room that could guarantee that he would continue to be pushed while building a bond no other sport can appreciate. He joined his long-time best friend Nate Keaton in the Circleville High School program. He recently told me that while he had several choices, it didn’t seem that way to him. He said, “Nate is my best friend and one of the greatest at the sport. I knew what was next for me.”
Taking full advantage of the new facility in Circleville, the community support and have a best friend in the room to push him, Caleb continued to excel in wrestling and as a young adult. Caleb went into the 2017 state tournament after a tough loss in districts to the eventual state champ from Saint Paris Graham. Caleb battled to the semi-finals, where he lost a controversial call in overtime. He then won all the way through the remaining field to finish 3rd in dominating fashion, pinning or tech fall (15 point advantage) nearly ever opponent.
Moving into the 2017-2018 season, Circleville coaches had high hopes with a returning champion and two returning placers on the roster. Regular season started a bit rough for the Tigers at the Walsh Ironman, arguably the toughest wrestling tournament in the country. The team quickly got back on track before the holiday break. Caleb was back to his normal self, dominating any opponent that was in front of him, leading all the way to the district finals where he controlled and defeated the eventual state runner-up in a close match. The following week was the state tournament and it was again deep into the bracket where Caleb would first be tested by the eventual champ. A boring stalemate of a match that just did not play to Caleb’s strengths. Again, he was forced to pickup all his emotions and wrestle back. And wrestle back he did finishing every opponent to another third place finish.
There are emotions in these moments that we can not understand as spectators. More than a decade of hard work, dedication and grit that comes into question. But one has to bounce back as Caleb did and keep finding ways to win. A close friend, JC Ramey, said of Caleb, “He reminds me of a current Olympian, Frank Molinaro, who bragged through college about dominating opponents and loving every minute of it.” Ramey went on to say, “Caleb has a special fire that shows in everything he does: practice, diet, coaching youth, etc. He is a blessing to have as part of the Circleville wrestling team and will be a very special collegiate athlete as long as he keeps that attitude to just keep dominating opponents!”
So what’s next for a young man who has finished on the podium every year in high school? What’s next when for someone so close to his goals but seconds separated him from them? He’s going to continue his journey this fall. He will be joining a Division 1 wrestling program on scholarship to continue to fulfill his dreams of winning on the biggest stages worldwide and testing his mental and physical capacity every single day in the wrestling room. There are few that question whether Caleb will meet these goals, but the man who needs to believe he will get there is busy working in the wrestling room to answer that question.