Rangell trades paintball for the mat

A former paintball pro, Conrad Rangell is a redshirt junior for the Gophers.

Gopher wrestler Conrad Rangell spent five years playing professional paintball before returning to school and becoming a part of the University in fall 2012.

Holly Peterson

Gopher wrestler Conrad Rangell spent five years playing professional paintball before returning to school and becoming a part of the University in fall 2012.

Nate Gotlieb

Not many athletes can say they’ve embarked on a professional athletics career before college.

Gophers wrestler Conrad Rangell can.

Rangell spent five years playing professional paintball and returned to school in 2010. He won California community college state wrestling championships in 2010 and 2011 before transferring to Minnesota in fall 2012.

At 26, Rangell is the Gophers’ oldest wrestler, even though he’s just a redshirt junior.

“Sometimes I even forget how old I am with the guys I’m hanging around with,” he said. “Sometimes they have to remind me with the old man jokes and stuff like that.”

But Rangell’s coaches seem to appreciate his work ethic and maturity.

“It’s always tough when you get to a D-I level,” head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “With him being more mature, he’s made that adjustment very well.”

From the mat to the field

Rangell started wrestling in fourth grade and lost every match as the 63-pound starter at Clovis East High School.

“I couldn’t handle losing,” he said. “So I had to keep trying.”

Rangell steadily improved and earned four varsity letters before graduating in 2005. As a senior, he finished second at the 2005 California Interscholastic Federation state wrestling championships in the 125-pound class.

Rangell’s only scholarship offer was from Fresno State, which was about to cut its wrestling program.

He instead pursued paintball, a sport he was introduced to at a friend’s birthday party in seventh grade.

“I just liked it so much,” Rangell said. “It was kind of like my break from wrestling.”

He attended an open tryout with the Sacramento-based professional paintball team XSV and made the team.

XSV coach Rich Telford said typically 20 to 30 people attend open tryouts, but none make it.

“Conrad was one of the few exceptions,” Telford said.

Rangell and his teammates traveled across the country — and once to Malaysia — for tournaments. Rangell slept on Telford’s couch for most of his paintball career.

“I loved it,” Rangell said. “I’d never trade [the experience] for anything. It was the best decision for me at the time.”

Telford said Rangell was a smart, aggressive and well-conditioned player.

“He was one of our best players,” he said. “He definitely had the best work ethic.”

Back on the mat

Rangell stayed in wrestling shape and coached wrestling at Clovis East during his paintball career.

But he said his interest in pursuing college wrestling was piqued when he watched a friend wrestle at a freestyle tournament in April 2010.

“I hadn’t seen a lot of college wrestling matches, just because there was no program in my hometown,” he said. “When I saw it, I just thought I could compete at that level.”

Rangell started practicing on his own that summer at Fresno City College, a community college in Fresno, Calif. Fresno City coach Paul Keysaw noticed him early that fall and encouraged him to sign up for classes and wrestle on the college team.

Keysaw said the first thing he noticed was Rangell’s work ethic and demeanor in the wrestling room.

“He showed up one day — it was probably two weeks after school started — and he just kind of wanted to roll around and train,” Keysaw said.

Rangell had a successful run at Fresno City, winning back-to-back state titles at 149 pounds and helping his team go undefeated both seasons. He carried a 3.8 GPA and graduated with an associate degree in recreational leadership.

“He was always the guy you wanted to compare yourself to,” said Spencer Hill, Rangell’s Fresno City teammate and former practice partner. “He didn’t talk a lot. He just kind of showed by example.”

While Rangell excelled on the mat at the community college level, his goal was to land at a Division I program. He found a suitor in Minnesota last spring, thanks to a connection between a Clovis East coach and Eggum.

Rangell started his Gophers career in fall 2012. He was 25 years old and lived in a single dorm room in Sanford Hall among 18- and 19-year-olds.

Gophers redshirt freshman Brett Pfarr lived near Rangell in Sanford last year and said the age difference didn’t matter.

“We’d more just tease him about being really old, saying he’s over the hill and whatnot” Pfarr said. “That’s kind of a running gag between us.”

Rangell went 24-11 last season at 149 pounds and won a title at the Finn Grinaker Cobber Open in November 2012. He has appeared in two tournaments this season but hasn’t cracked the Gophers’ starting lineup — largely because redshirt junior Nick Dardanes has established himself as the team’s top 149-pound wrestler.

But Rangell’s teammates have taken notice of his work ethic. Redshirt junior Scott Schiller said  that Rangell is always in the wrestling room and that his dedication rubs off on other

Pfarr said Rangell is a leader and a vocal member in practice, though he’s quiet away from the mat.

“He’s really competitive in everything he does, and it really shows when he wrestles,” Pfarr said.

Rangell is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sport management next spring. He said he’s hoping to intern with the Minnesota Twins and pursue a career marketing wrestling.

But he’s enjoying his ride with the Gophers for now.