In his first year with Minnesota, Sean Russell has taken charge as a leader

In his first year, Russell is exceeding expectations for the Gophers wrestling team.

Sean Russell takes Steve Polakowski at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Minneapolis.

Jasmin Kemp

Sean Russell takes Steve Polakowski at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Minneapolis.

David Mullen

It is not often that one of the newest additions to a collegiate athletics team is someone who has four-years of prior experience.

Sean Russell (19-3), the No. 6 wrestler in the 125-weight class is just that. Although it’s his first year in with the Gophers, some say it’s hard to tell.

“The one thing that I think is unique about [Russell] is that this is his senior year, his first year at the University of Minnesota, and you’d honestly think the guy’s been here for five years,” head coach Brandon Eggum said. 

However, Russell said the differences between Edinboro University, a small public university in Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are huge, especially the resources.

“It’s hard to fail here — they don’t let you fail. And they help you out a lot and have a lot of cool stuff,” Russell said. He added that differences in nutrition programs, training programs and training facilities, among other things, contribute to the team’s success.

Even though Russell said the University set him up for success, other key contributors are the wrestlers he practices with every day.

“I have the best room in the country for 125-pounders, maybe even the world,” Russell said. He added that he knew prior to committing to Minnesota about the 125-pounders on the team, but his expectations have been surpassed. 

Russell, out of Collins Hill High School near Atlanta, chose Edinboro over Minnesota originally. But when he found out their head coach, the man who recruited him, was leaving Edinboro for a job at West Virginia , he decided to transfer. 

“There’d be a new coaching staff coming into Edinboro, and because of that [Russell] decided he wanted to go where he thought he had the best opportunity,” Eggum said. 

On top of believing that Minnesota gave him the best chance, he also knew about the unavoidable winters. “It’s crazy, it’s been terrible these last few days. … I knew coming to Minneapolis that it would be like this sometimes,” Russell said on Jan. 31, a day after one of the coldest days in Minneapolis in over two decades. 

While Russell’s final year of eligibility is nearing the end, he says there’s only one thing on his mind.

“There’s no reason why I can’t be a national champ this year. … I’ve taken some losses to the top guys, but [not by] more than two or three points,” Russell said. “We’ve been working on areas I need to work on, and I’m fully confident that I can win a title this year.”

The Gophers will be back in action Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska when they match up against the Cornhuskers.