Ring warrior

Fight night: Scott “Irish Thunder” Kelleher, a junior welterweight, be back in the ring on Nov. 20 to face Kevin Garcia. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Scott Kelleher played freshman high school football, and was hoping to move up the ranks to the JV and varsity.

Kelleher, though, needed to build up his body.

“I just couldn’t put on weight,” he said.

A tight end and defensive end, he spent part of the off-season learning to box. Soon, he was hooked.

“I enjoyed boxing more, and stuck with it,” he said. “Football was my sport until I found boxing.”

Today, Scott “Irish Thunder” Kelleher is 22 and a professional boxer. A junior welterweight, he’s 2-0 with one knockout. He’ll be back in the ring on Nov. 20 to face Kevin Garcia.

“I’m trying to rack up wins,” he said. “I’m still learning, but I feel strong. I feel good.”

Kelleher lived in Lawncrest when he was a toddler, but has lived in Rockledge most of his life. He attended St. Cecilia Elementary School in Fox Chase until enrolling at Abington Junior High.

Growing up, he played baseball and basketball, but mostly enjoyed playing pound football for Fox-Rok Athletic Association.

At age 15, he fought for the first time as an amateur, knocking out his opponent in 34 seconds. He KO’d his next three opponents. One memorable fight came outdoors at the Lawncrest 4th of July Celebration.

“It was a hundred degrees,” Kelleher recalled.

In all, he fought about 35 times as an amateur, in venues from Scranton to Salisbury, Maryland. He lost about seven or eight, though was never knocked out. He won a state Golden Gloves title and a Junior Olympics championship.

At the start, he trained at the Jack Costello Boxing Club, at Tulip Street and Longshore Avenue in Tacony. Later, he trained at the Young Guns Boxing Club in Germantown.

At present, he trains at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym, at 3rd and Green streets in Northern Liberties.

Wade Hinnant trains Kelleher. Known as “Smokin’ ” Wade Hinnant when he fought professionally, the trainer believes his boxer has a pro style, that he has the ability to snap an opponent’s head back and cave a foe’s side in with a hard punch.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Hinnant said. “He’s best suited for the pros. When you hit somebody, you want to make them feel it.”

Randy Hinnant, Wade’s brother, is Kelleher’s assistant trainer. Hinnant acknowledges that Kelleher might lack experience, but adds that he is “mentally tough and a good student of the game.” He also calls Kelleher a good listener.

“It’s important to believe your corner,” Hinnant said.

Kelleher chose his nickname in honor of “Irish” Micky Ward and Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, who engaged in a classic trilogy of fights. He has an Irish cross tattoo on his upper arm, and he enters the ring to I’m Shipping Up to Boston by the American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys.

Like Ward and Gatti, he likes to put on a good show.

“I like to think I’m a fan-friendly fighter,” he said.

Kelleher, who is 6 feet tall and 140 pounds, said he ditched the headgear and turned pro only after Wade Hinnant pronounced him ready to go. He used to be a brawler, but now uses his long reach to mix in some jabs.

His first pro fight came on Aug. 15 at The Playground, in Atlantic City. He knocked out Xzaviar Ford in 1:57 in the first round of a scheduled four-rounder.

“That was an awesome experience,” he said. “It was my first pro fight, so of course I was nervous, but it was a lot of fun. I went in there and did my job.”

Kelleher returned to the ring on Oct. 2, earning a four-round decision over Alberto Manukyan at the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia. He won by 40-35 scores on all three judges’ scorecards.

Next month, he’ll be back at the 2300 Arena for the bout with Garcia. He’s gaining confidence.

“I’ve got a lot to work on, but I listen to Wade well. I think it’s going to be something special,” he said.

Bill Kelleher, Scott’s dad, is his manager. He trained his son early in his career, but believes it is best for dads to take a step back. He is proud that his son is rising from humble beginnings, and has faith in Wade Hinnant.

The younger Kelleher and Hinnant have a trust and rapport similar to movie icons Rocky Balboa and his trainer, Mickey, according to Bill Kelleher.

“It’s a dangerous sport. I’m putting my son’s well-being in Wade’s hands,” he said.

The rest of Kelleher’s family includes his mom, Karen, and an older sister, Erin, who is in her third year of medical school.

In his amateur days, Kelleher would present his trophy or ribbon to his mom. He’d kiss her and say, “I’m fine.”

“She’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic,” he said.

Kelleher describes himself as a blue-collar guy who likes to hang out with his friends.

After graduating from Abington High in 2012, he studied electrical at a trade school for a year.

Now, he’s an apprentice for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. He spends a day a week in a classroom at Local 98’s school at 17th and Spring Garden streets and works four days a week at MJK Electric, based in Berlin, New Jersey. He did some work related to the recent visit by Pope Francis.

“It’s a good company. A lot of good guys work there,” he said.

Kelleher knows that the construction industry has its ups and downs, but thinks he can make a pretty good living in the electrical field if he works hard, learns the right skills and always likes what he does.

After working as an electrician, his day is not over. He heads to the Joe Hand Boxing Gym, where he spars, jumps rope, does pushups and situps, uses the heavy bag and speed bag and does mitt work.

The fighter also runs a lot, usually in Pennypack Park or along Rhawn Street.

That’s the kind of commitment it will take, he said, to put a belt around his waist.

“My overall goal to reach is to become a world champion,” he said. ••

Put ’em up: Lawncrest native Scott Kelleher, 22, is an undefeated professional boxer with two wins under his belt this year and another bout coming up next month. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO