Three-time national champion Todd Fuller believes there are two directions you can go when you first hit the mat in college. You can either give up, go home and continue to live your life without your singlet and headgear or you can approach wrestling with a new mindset and quickly push yourself to close the gap between you and the wrestlers that have made the necessary sacrifices to call themselves collegiate athletes.
The phrase, “respect is earned, not given,” although frequently abused, is the only way to explain the slight, but closely-knit subculture of college wrestling across the country. Individual battles don’t always need to be won in practice and you can guarantee conditioning drills will push you to your breaking point, but the fact you’re on the mat, competing with your teammates is enough to create a bond that will last a lifetime.
It’s hard to imagine a wrestler as accomplished as Fuller had difficulty making the card for a dual, but he was in that exact spot his freshman year at NDSU. The Bison were coming off their second national championship and the Maple Lake, Minn. product needed to prove to himself he belonged on the same mat among the likes of Steve Saxlund and Mark Pazdernik who had both just won individual National Titles.
“I was nervous,” Fuller said. “The first couple weeks in the room, when you’re basically getting your butt handed to you by these guys because not only are they older, they’ve been in a collegiate wrestling room for two, three, four years.”
Fuller kept his head down and worked. Discipline and sacrifice are the most used words in the wrestling room, said Fuller. And once he started to show the gap between he and his teammates was shrinking, some of the Bison’s best started to notice. The freshman Fuller won his wrestle off in the 174-weight class before NDSU’s second dual of the 1998-99 season. He wouldn’t miss another dual the rest of his career.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends, group of mentors and people that I would take a bullet for,” Fuller said of the brotherhood that was created during his formidable years as a college wrestler. “Saxlund being one of them.”
Like Fuller, Saxlund won three division II national championships in the 184-weight class. Since the two were so close in weight, they spent a ton of time in practice wrestling each other. “He probably did more for my wrestling career than anybody,” Fuller said. “I couldn’t have done it without him. Early on, beating on me, and always leading by example. Having him as a practice partner and one of our captains, I don’t think you could’ve asked for a better person to watch early in my career and to learn from.”[/text_output]
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[text_output]The relationship didn’t stop after Saxlund’s eligibility ran out after the Bison won their third division II team national championship in 2001, and it remained strong after Fuller finished his career in 2002.
The two are now business partners together and are co-directors of the popular high school wrestling event, the Rumble on the Red.
The Rumble on the Red is an annual wrestling event that hosts over 100 high school varsity and junior varsity teams between Christmas and New Years at the FargoDome. For nine years, the Rumble on the Red hosts a three-day event for high schools across the region to compete against the some of best the Midwest has to offer. Seven years ago, they introduced the Rumble Youth Duals, and three years ago, they held their first Rumble Youth Individual tournament. Last year, high schools from seven states were represented at the Rumble.
Fuller has been a sales representative at Coaches Choice, a screen print, embroidery and promotional products company in Fargo, for the past seven years. “I love this industry, and I think it’s easy for an athlete to transition into the sales world,” Fuller said. “You set goals, work hard and do what it takes to achieve them.”
Fuller has been married to his wife Katie for nine years and they have two children, Chloe (8) and TJ (7).
The Fullers are instilling the same hardworking values he learned at NDSU in their family. TJ wrestles for Tech Team out of West Fargo and is well on his way to following in his father’s footsteps. Chloe loves gymnastics and is a member of American Gold Gym in Fargo.
The discipline and sacrifice Fuller gave during his time at NDSU rewarded him with three national championships and two team titles. Now, those same values are helping him be successful in other walks of life, but most of all, his relationships with Saxlund and his loving family.[/text_output]