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One-on-One with Brandon Eggum

Brandon Eggum has been a key figure both as a competitor and coach in the University of Minnesota's climb to national prominence in Division I college wrestling.

Eggum, a native of Sydney, Mont., was a three-time All-American (1998-2000) for the Gophers at 177/184 pounds, finishing fifth as a sophomore, runner-up as a junior, and third as a senior. He was also a two-time Big Ten champion. The Gophers finished in the top three at the NCAAs in each of Eggum's four seasons as a starter. Following his college wrestling career, Eggum found success on the senior level in freestyle wrestling. He earned a silver medal at the 2001 World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Eggum joined Minnesota's staff in 2001 as the team's strength and conditioning coordinator, and helped the program to its first NCAA team title that season. He later moved into an assistant coaching position, and in August of 2011 was promoted to head assistant coach for the Gophers. In Eggum's 12 seasons on Minnesota's staff, the Gophers have won three NCAA team titles and finished in the top ten 11 times.

InterMat caught up with Eggum and talked to him about a variety of topics, including this past season, members of the Gopher wrestling team, his competitive career, 2012-13 season outlook and schedule, career goals, and much more.

Minnesota is coming off a runner-up finish at the NCAAs. I know the coaching staff and team's goal was to finish on top, but I imagine there is some satisfaction that comes with taking home a runner-up trophy. How did you and the staff evaluate this past season?

Brandon Eggum coaches heavyweight Tony Nelson at the 2012 NCAA Championships (Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Eggum: Overall we thought the guys made some great progress throughout the season. From early on, and then watching guys grow, we were very pleased. Obviously, we had a goal of winning a national championship. We had the potential to do that with a great national tournament. We had a good national tournament ... there's no doubt. A lot of guys wrestled above their seeds. But at the same time there were some guys that you knew deserved better. But that's the way that national tournament is. There are always ups and downs with it. Having seven All-Americans was excellent. But we had other guys that we know definitely could have been All-Americans. Nick Dardanes lost in the round of 12. That guy definitely should have been a high All-American just based on the way he was wrestling, and knowing how good he is. We just had some ups and down during the tournament, but that's just the way it goes.

You started four freshmen, including a true freshman, and three sophomores this past season. When you have a young team like that, do you approach the season differently than you would with a team filled with juniors and seniors?

Eggum: A little bit. We had some good balance. We had a couple great seniors in Zach Sanders and Sonny Yohn, so it was nice to have their leadership with the young guys. We went right into a pretty tough schedule. Starting right off the bat we had Cornell and Penn State early on a hard road trip, traveling to both schools. That really gave us a good look at where the guys were at. Our young guys were very, very tough mentally. They had a lot of confidence in themselves. You could just see by the way they wrestled with their intensity and pace that good things would happen as the season would go on. We knew that that was something they were always going to do. For us it was more about just trying to look at each individual as they were wrestling and start to figure out small areas where we could work on improvement. We knew the effort would be there. But if technically we could improve in a few areas, we knew that would help us. It was great to see so many young guys do well and become All-Americans.

Logan Storley initially wanted to compete right out of the gates. We talked with him a lot about it. We told him that we planned on redshirting him. Typically we like to redshirt everybody when they come in if we can. That's what we wanted to do with him, even though he had made a strong point that he really wanted to compete. We just said, 'Well, if you feel that you're ready to compete, then at that point we would talk about it.' So we just kept trying to put it off and just watched him in the room. You could just see his mat sense was really good. He could also wrestle very well on the mat. Some kids coming out of high school, even blue chips, can struggle on the mat. He was doing very well in that area. He was competing with great guys in our room who were successful.

Zach Sanders finished his career as Minnesota's seventh four-time All-American. What are you going to remember most about him as a college competitor?

Eggum: The thing that I always think about with Zach is just the way he lived his life. He competed and trained perfectly. Everything was about wrestling for him ... The way that he took care of himself as far as training, sleeping, studying the sport, everything about it. It was very, very impressive to watch a guy that was as dedicated as him. That's why he was such a great leader for these young guys. They come in and they're looking up to a great leader like Zach Sanders.

As far as coaching him, what a great guy to sit in the corner on. The guy wrestled for all seven minutes, all the time. He was never out of a match. He was just fun to watch. He had a ton of great skills. He was always thinking about scoring points and being offensive. He was a tough kid. So many great memories about Zach that it's hard to just pick out one.

Sanders wrestled at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials just a month after his college career ended and had a win over Angel Escobedo, who has been successful on the senior level. What kind of freestyle career do you expect Sanders to have?

Zach Sanders defeated Angel Escobedo at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials (Photo/The Guillotine)
Eggum: Zach is going to have a great freestyle career, I believe. He's just kind of getting a taste of it. As you mentioned, he had a nice win over Escobedo, who is a very talented freestyle wrestler, and Zach did that with very little freestyle training. I know that Zach has made his decision to completely dedicate himself to making the freestyle team. I think 121 pounds is a great weight for Zach as well. He should have great success. We're extremely excited to keep him around training, just because of the way he lives and trains. At the same time, he's a great asset for the guys that are in our program.

Obviously, with Sanders graduating, it leaves a void at 125 pounds. There has been speculation that David Thorn will be dropping from 133 pounds to 125 pounds. Can you confirm this?

Eggum: Yeah. David came and talked with us a little bit about that near the end of the season. He has made the one-hundred percent decision that he's going to go 125 pounds. I think it's a great fit for him. Size-wise he actually was always light at 133 pounds. He's wrestling very well in the room right now. There's no question that a guy like David Thorn should be contending for a national title at 125 pounds.

You will also have to replace three-time All-American Sonny Yohn at 197 pounds. Scott Schiller appears to be the frontrunner for that spot. He performed well as a backup, going 26-4 and placing fifth at the Southern Scuffle, which included a win over Penn State's Morgan McIntosh. What are your expectations for Schiller?

Eggum: Scott has done a great job. We're excited to watch him compete. Our expectations for him are the same as the expectations we had for the young guys that entered the lineup last season, and that's just to go out and compete hard, and to wrestle the style of wrestling that we have been preaching here at Minnesota. That's what he does very, very well. He'll learn a lot, especially getting the exposure in live competition that he wasn't able to get this past season. I think he's going to have a big learning curve during the season. We just expect him to go out and wrestle a real physical pace, like he does, and good things will happen.

The one weight class where you did not get an NCAA qualifier this past season was 157 pounds. Who do you see as the candidates for that starting spot this coming season?

Pat Smith, one of the nation's top Greco-Roman wrestlers at 66 kilos, is one of a handful of wrestlers expected to battle for the starting spot at 157 pounds (Photo/The Guillotine)
Eggum: That's still a question mark for us right now. In the past we had Jake Deitchler. When he was no longer able to compete, Alec Ortiz filled the sport for a lot of the season. Danny Zilverberg also saw some time in the lineup. Those are two guys that I know will be in the running for the spot. There are also a number of other young guys. Off the top of my head I'll probably leave someone out ... but we have Steven Keogh, Brad Dolezal, and Pat Smith. Those guys are all hungry and trying to earn a spot. But that's the weight we need someone to step up and really do well. For this team to win a national title we need somebody to come through there and be in the hunt to be an All-American.

We have five returning All-Americans, so in that sense we have a strong returning team. You bring a guy like David Thorn in at 125 pounds, who I think will contend for a national title. Then you have a guy like Nick Dardanes, who could be a national champion or certainly a high finisher at 141 pounds. Plus, Cody Yohn, who is already a three-time NCAA qualifier. Then Scott Schiller at 197 pounds, who looks to be a solid fit for us. We just need a guy at 157 pounds to step up. Just like this past season, the balance of our team will be very, very good.

You have signed another strong recruiting class that includes five InterMat Top 100 recruits. What are your overall thoughts on this year's recruiting class?

Eggum: Obviously, sometimes you look to fill weights. But the other thing that we have always looked at here is just finding kids who fit into this program as far as being great people and having great attitudes. We're really happy with the guys that we brought in. They are hard-working individuals and seem very, very motivated. They'll fit in well. So we're excited with the group that we have.

Do you expect any of your true freshmen to contend for starting spots this coming season? Or do you anticipate that all of them will redshirt?

Eggum: We anticipate that all of them will redshirt. That's what we're thinking. There is maybe an individual here or there that we talked about early in the recruiting process that we would think about wrestling if they're ready. But I think right now with where we're at our thoughts are that all the incoming recruits will redshirt. We feel pretty comfortable that will be the case this season, barring injuries and things of that sort.

Some programs have already released their schedules for the 2012-13 season. When do you anticipate the Gopher wrestling schedule will be finalized and released to the public?

Eggum: For the most part the schedule has been finalized. I was waiting on one team in particular to see if we were going to have an extra dual with them. But right now we have a great home schedule. We have eight home duals this season. We added a couple different teams. Boise State is coming in. Hofstra, and Oregon State, a program that hasn't typically been on our schedule. Then we'll have Oklahoma State here at home. Other big duals with Iowa and Illinois. We have Northwestern and Michigan State on the Big Ten schedule as well. We have eight home duals, and right now it looks like we have the National Duals finals here as well. We're just trying to make sure everything is good to go. But it sounds like this is going to be the site for the National Duals finals. So we're excited about that. At least nine opportunities to compete at home is great for our team and great for our fans. So we're pretty pumped about the upcoming schedule. As far as the release of the schedule, I think they're waiting on a few things with the National Duals, and like I said, there's one team I'm trying to square some things up with. It could be an additional date here at home, or it could be away. But other than that we're pretty much finalized, so it might be released in the next few weeks.

Shifting gears … You competed at the 2001 World Championship and claimed a silver medal. Where is that silver medal today?

Eggum: People joke about it sometimes ... I've had people ask about it. It's actually in the attic of my garage. I guess I'm kind of embarrassed to say that. But it's up in my garage, up in the lofted area up there. I packed stuff away when I moved houses, and I never got a chance to pull it out. The memory of the tournament was great, and I was really excited about the opportunity to compete, and compete well. A lot of times, timing is everything. It was a great tournament for me. The memories for me are something that I cherish. The medal, though, for the most part, is not something I really think much about. But, yeah, it's in my garage, so I'll have to see if I can dust it off one day and pull it out. Some of the guys have asked about seeing it, and I've said that I don't know if I have enough time to get up there and look around for it.

You competed against Cael Sanderson both in college and in your freestyle career. I have heard Daniel Cormier talk about how Cael made him a better wrestler in college because he had to train to beat one of the best wrestlers in the world. Do you think competing against Cael helped raise your level?

Brandon Eggum battles Cael Sanderson (Photo/The Guillotine)
Eggum: Yeah ... there's no doubt. The guy was an exceptional competitor. It keeps you very, very focused. You try to learn new things and improve. So it definitely helped in that sense. He was one of the best wrestlers in the world when he was competing. When you get a chance to compete against somebody like that it does make it easy to keep yourself motivated and focused. There were a number of other guys that I competed against that I really respected, so I always hoped that I was training intensely and hard to be the best, and not overlooking other competitors.

You retired after 2004 at the age of 28. Did that itch to compete ever come back after you retired from competition?

Eggum: Not so much. Guys talk about that itch a lot. I didn't really feel it in that sense. I was really excited about what I was able to do with coaching, and starting to get more involved with wrestling. I really enjoy competing in the room and wrestling with the guys. But as far as the thought of coming back and really competing, I guess I don't feel a strong urge to do that, or haven't. When I was done, I was ready to be done. I really haven't looked back. With coaching, now starting my family and everything else that is going on in my life, I feel content with where I'm at and with what I've done as a competitor. Now it's more about helping these guys get better and attain their goals.

You are widely considered one of the nation's top assistant coaches in Division I. Your name is often times brought up when Division I head coaching positions are open. How important is it to you to become a Division I head coach?

Eggum: That's my ultimate goal, to be a head coach. It's great to be in the situation that I'm in right now under J Robinson. You learn so much from a guy like him. I'm blessed to be in this situation. But ultimately that's why I'm here. I'm putting in my time and trying to be the best I can be as a head assistant coach. But my ultimate goal as far as my career goes is to be a head coach, so it's very, very important to me.

On paper you have a team that is expected to be in the hunt for an NCAA team title in 2013. In your opinion, what is it going to take in terms of All-Americans and/or NCAA champions to finish on top in Des Moines next year?

Brandon Eggum talks with Sonny Yohn at the 2012 NCAA Championships (Photo/The Guillotine)
Eggum: I don't know what the magic number is ... but we had seven All-Americans this year, and in some years you can definitely win the title with seven All-Americans. I think it's going to take team balance for us to do it ... there's no question. I think you're going to have to have seven or more All-Americans to win the national title, and I think we can do that. There's no question. I see strong individuals ... I think we can get All-Americans in each of the weights. I would say it's going to take seven-plus All-Americans, and we have to have a handful of guys get in the finals and score some big points. We have the capability of doing that. So I guess that would be my prediction as far as us winning a national title. I see us doing it with a full team balance, all 10 guys going to the national tournament, and all 10 guys scoring points for the team.

This story also appears in the June 8 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.

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