*Photo gallery by Ray Richardson*

ATLANTIC CITY — Early in Eric Keosseian’s high school career he and the Howell coaching staff formulated a plan to ultimately get him on top of the medal stand in Atlantic City: get to the state tournament as a sophomore, place in the top eight as a junior and win a state championship as a senior.

Mission accomplished.

In the 220-pound state final at the NJSIAA Individual Championships inside Boardwalk Hall, Keosseian brought the crowd of over 10,000 to its feet when he pinned Don Bosco Prep’s Peter Acciardi in 2:23 to become the third wrestler in Howell history to win a state championship.

Acciardi, the No. 1 seed, went to his go-to move in the second period, a merkle, but Keosseian was ready for it. He caught the leg of Acciardi and drove him to his back where he finished off the pin to claim the state championship in the final bout of his high school career.

“Since last night when we knew we had him we’ve just been practicing for it,” Keosseian said. “I knew right when he slipped the leg in and I got it out I would be able to catch him on his back. I didn’t realize I was going to pin him at the time, but when I did…there’s no better feeling.”

Keosseian joins Carlos Fontanez in 1965 and current assistant coach Joey Langel in 2008 as Howell’s state champions.

Howell senior Eric Keosseian has his hand raised after winning the 2017 NJSIAA 220-pound state championship. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Keosseian and Acciardi had history going back to the summer when they wrestled three times. Keosseian went 2-1, but more important than the offseason victories was the knowledge of Acciardi’s tendencies.

“We knew going into it he was going to come up with merkles,” said Howell assistant coach Rich Gildner, who along with Petey Reilly work extensively with Keosseian. “Eric did a great job staying calm, got two feet behind him, and when Acciardi kept going with it Eric just stuck on top. The kid didn’t realized he was on his back and panicked, and Eric capitalized.”

“He bailed on it, and I didn’t expect that,” Keosseian said. “The last few times we wrestled him over the summer he kept with it. I knew I was going to get the reversal but I didn’t think he was going to his back.”

Keosseian took Acciardi down in the opening moments of the bout, which was exactly how Howell wanted the bout to go. When Keosseian is the aggressor he is a different wrestler.

“When Eric is offensive you can’t stop him,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “We see that kid in practice. When he wrestles like he does in the room you’re not stopping him.”

Howell senior Eric Keosseian pinned Don Bosco Prep's Peter Acciardi to win the 220-pound New Jersey state championship. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“We tell him all the time when he’s on and he’s attacking people he’s very difficult to beat,” Gildner said. “That was the plan, try to get a takedown early and just continue to work.”

“This tournament I took it up a level,” Keosseian said. “I’ve been wrestling so much better on my feet, on the mat, everything.”

Keosseian finishes his career as a two-time district champion, two-time Region 6 champion and with 133 victories, which is second all-time in program history (Zac Cunliffe, 138). He’ll head to West Point next season to wrestle for the Black Knights of Army. When he walks into the wrestling room for the first time they’ll say ‘this is Eric Keosseian, a New Jersey state champ’.

“It’s great for all the hard work to finally pay off,” Keosseian said. “I finally got here and got that title. It feels even better than I thought it would, especially to win by fall. It’s amazing.”


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.