(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best wrestlers in Montana history on Jan. 16 with the launch of the #MTTop20. Athletes will continue to be featured until Friday, Feb. 10 when No. 1 is unveiled.)

Top 20 rankings: No. 20 – Jarrett Degen; No. 19 – Luke Weber; No. 18 – Benjamin Stroh; No. 17 – Curtis Owen; No. 16 – Chris Currier; No. 15 – Chris Nedens; No. 14 – Kyle Smith; No. 13 – Jade Rauser; No. 12 – Scott Barrett, No. 11 – Gary Albright; No. 10 – Turk Lords; No. 9 – Larry Quisel; No. 8 – Tyrel Todd; No. 7 – Reese Andy; No. 6 – Matt Ruppel; No. 5 – Emmett Willson.

No. 4 – Brandon Eggum, Sidney

It’s rare for an athlete to find success in his or her sport immediately. For many, it takes years of practice to perfect their craft. That can be especially true on the wrestling mats, where working on technique, preparation and mental toughness are key. But every now and again an athlete comes along who just gets the sport. That raw talent coupled with an incredible work ethic led former Sidney star Brandon Eggum to some of the greatest heights wrestling can offer.

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Brandon Eggum stat sheet

Eggum began wrestling at an early age and found success at various youth tournaments and camps in eastern Montana. After working on his craft from elementary school through junior high, expectations were high for the high school-aged Eggum. He certainly lived up to those expectations.

As a freshman 135-pound wrestler for the Eagles, Eggum helped the program to the Class A state championship. He made quick work of his first three opponents at the state tournament, earning a major decision, fall and 8-1 semifinal victory on his way to the championship match. Eggum would fall to Havre’s Bill Bender 9-2 in that title bout, but the stage had been set for things to come.

As a sophomore, Eggum jumped to 152 pounds and became an easy favorite to win the Class A title at the state tournament. He pinned three of his four opponents in a combined 7:24, including a 2:40 fall over Hamilton’s Jeff Bowdino in the state championship match. Sidney again won the team title.

The final two years of Eggum’s high school career are among the best in Montana’s history. Wrestling in the 171-pound weight class as a junior, he never lost a match as he captured his second straight individual championship. He pinned his first three opponents at the state tournament in 10:55 before his 13-5 major decision over Billings Central’s Brandon Aldrich. The Eagles earned the third-place trophy in Class A in that 1994 state tournament.

Eggum continued his incredible wrestling as a senior, again not dropping a single match on his way to the third straight title, again at 171 pounds. His state resume once again totaled three pinfalls in 6:02, including an incredible victory in the championship in only 1:37. He became the 51st three-time champion in Montana’s history and, at the time, was the state’s all-time career wins leader with 147. He now ranks 33rd, though wrestlers typically compete in more matches now than during Eggum’s career.

Of those 147 wins, 92 came consecutively as he became one of only 14 Treasure State wrestlers to become two-year undefeated state champions.

Eggum was highly recruited from Sidney and chose to attend the University of Minnesota where success would continue to follow. After a redshirt season, Eggum became the Gophers’ starter at 177 pounds and qualified for his first NCAA Championships. The following season he would again compete at the NCAAs, where he captured his first all-American campaign.

Much like high school, Eggum would jump classes for his final two seasons, this time wrestling at 184 pounds for the Golden Gophers. His junior season he was the Big Ten champion and made an incredible run through the NCAA Championships where he finished runner-up to Cael Sanderson of Iowa State. Eggum earned a technical fall and three decisions before falling 6-1 in the championship match.

His senior season he defended his Big Ten title and again looked like one of the favorites at the NCAA Championships. The organization pitted he and Sanderson on the same side of the bracket, and, following two major decisions by Eggum, the two would meet in the semifinals with a trip to the championship on the line. Sanderson, considered the greatest college wrestler of all time, won the match and dropped Eggum to the consolation bracket. Discouraged, but not done, Eggum topped Edinboro’s Kevin Welsh in a 3-2 decision to advance to the third-place match against Doug Lee of Oregon. Eggum earned a 5-2 decision to finish his career with a third-place finish and third straight all-American season.

His 115-23-0 record is tied for the 22nd-best in Minnesota program history. The 61 dual meet victories and .833 career winning percentage are also among the best the Golden Gophers have seen. In 1998-99, he tallied a season winning percentage of .944, the 22nd-best in program history. He also is tied for 25th for consecutive wins following the 21 straight from November of 1997 through January of 1998.

Eggum joins some incredible Gopher athletes on the all-Americans list including Damion Hahn, Dale Hanson and Brock Lesnar. He left the program as one of a select handful to win multiple Big Ten championships and to appear in an NCAA final.

Following the successful Minnesota career, Eggum dipped into international competition and earned a silver medal at the 2001 World Freestyle Championships. He added another silver the following year at the Pan American Freestyle Championships and was a 2003 bronze medalist at the U.S. National Freestyle Championships.

Eggum joined the Minnesota wrestling staff as a strength and conditioning coordinator in 2001, helping the Gophers to the ’01 and ’02 national championships, the first in program history.

In 2004, the Sidney native was promoted to assistant head coach. This past year he was promoted to head coach of his alma mater.

… on Brandon Eggum:

Sidney High School wrestling coach Guy Melby: “I remember Brandon as a little kid, not sure which grade, probably third or fourth grade, at our little guy wrestling camps. I helped coach him with tons of other Sidney people running through the little guy program. You know how little kids are, you could tell he enjoyed it at that young age and that he was going to be one of those guys that stuck it out through high school. He did, history proves that.

“He was pretty dominating technique-wise. He was solid and was one of those kids that knew it took a lot of strength so he spent a lot of time in the weight room. We knew it took a lot of technique so we took care of that and his conditioning was phenomenal, he would always go the extra mile being the first one in the room and last one to leave. We worked out all summer together and did all kinds of national events and international events. His work ethic is second to nobody and I still believe that in the entire state. I don’t know what number he is on your countdown, No. 4 or whatever, but to me he’s No. 1, no doubt about it because he worked his tail off and deserves to be where he’s at, that’s for sure.

“He’s still in our record books too and we have a lot of guys in the record books, so it’s a good thing. I think we probably wrestle more matches in high school now, we go to more dual tournaments and things like that, so for him to be still up in the leaderboards is pretty amazing.

“Being in the Big Ten is the elite conference in the NCAA and we have Brandon back every summer to do our camps and he’s more than willing to give back to our community. Now, this little guy program that he came out of, these kids are looking at him and thinking, ‘Well, if he did it why can’t I do it?’ So he has left a legacy here that will last forever, no doubt about it. His picture is in our hallway, his name is in our record books and I can’t think of a more deserving individual, as far as success goes, than Brandon Eggum. He deserves everything he gets and he earned everything he got, that’s the way it works.”

Three-time high school champion and NCAA finalist Brandon Eggum: “The way I got introduced to wrestling was a little different. I lived outside of Sidney and a neighbor put on a little wrestling tournament when I was around eight years old. It was a wrestling tournament in his back yard, almost like a field, and it was basically just a takedown tournament where the neighbors came together. It probably seemed bigger to me at the time than it was but I wrestled a few matches and got into the finals. That was my first taste of it. I got a little plastic trophy, I don’t know if it was a bowling trophy or what.

“I got into the Sidney AAU wrestling club and spent a lot of time there. My first tournament I wrestled in officially was in Glendive and I took second in that tournament. I lost to one of Montana’s really good wrestlers, Jason Flaten (of Glasgow) is who I lost to in that first tournament. My very first official match was against a girl and I remember thinking at that time, I was super nervous. Now, I actually met my wife at the Colorado Springs Olympic training center, she was a female wrestler, Katrina. I told her about that story and we both laughed.

“My junior year, I think I maybe had major-decisioned the other guys returning, so as long as I was healthy I had a strong sense that I was the guy to win the national title at my weight class. Cael Sanderson, I noticed he was doing really well and we were supposed to wrestle earlier in the year in the beginning of January but there was a snowstorm so the dual got cancelled between us and Iowa State. We didn’t get to meet up there, we would have gone head-to-head for the first time there. Then I lost to him in the NCAAs my junior year. He was just a really good competitor and hard guy to compete against. I was always thinking about scoring points and getting into my offense but against him, he had good length and reach and his range was exceptional because of his body type. It seemed like it was really hard to get him to follow my lead and in my offense because I felt like I was always defending a position. It was kind of a tough time after I lost because when I came to the University of Minnesota my goal was to win a team title but also an individual title, and I realized I had one shot left and the guy I had to beat was Cael Sanderson. … I went forward my senior year and competed against Cael and again lost to him in the semifinals. The way they seeded the tournament I got on the same side of the bracket as him and lost in the semifinals but came back for third. He’s an exceptional competitor and one of the top few guys I’ve wrestled in my lifetime, whether international or college, and I would say he’s one of the top two probably that I’ve ever competed against.

“This is an exciting opportunity for me. I’ve been with the University of Minnesota for quite some time – I graduated from Sidney in 1995 so it’s been some 20 years now and it’s been extremely exciting as a student-athlete and a coach. This was always my dream as I started coaching, to lead the University of Minnesota and give the same experience back to kids like I received when I was here. It’s fun, the job changes every day and it’s not like it was when I was competing and I try to remind that to the guys on the team – you can feel nerves and tension and anxiety but all of us that have competed look back or read the papers or watch ESPN to see these guys compete and you remember the excitement. Then, one day you look back and those were some of the best times of your life and you felt the most alive and it was really exciting. I still get to be a part of that now helping guys continue to grow as wrestlers and young people. It’s an exciting job because every weekend provides different challenges, especially in the Big Ten Conference which is by far the toughest wrestling conference in the country right now. It’s week after week a weekend full of challenges and excitement but watching these young men grow and their ups and downs is exciting. There are degrees of success with winning and losing every week and that’s part of being a coach now is getting guys to keep their confidence and continuing to drive them to get better.”

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