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'He's always going to be Champ': UMD student has embraced mascot role for five years

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Ready to get out on the ice as mascot Champ, University of Minnesota Duluth student Taylor Korum anxiously watches the clock in his locker room at Amsoil Arena in late October. (Samantha Erkkila / 2 / 2

For nearly five years, University of Minnesota Duluth student Taylor Korum has been suiting up in a dark gray onesie, placing a large bulldog head on his shoulders and running around football stadiums and hockey arenas patting people's heads and getting crowds on their feet.

But Korum, aka Champ, says there is more to being a mascot than taking selfies with fans. To him, it's a lifestyle.

"I don't change my personality, but you have to be a bit more upbeat," Korum said during a recent interview overlooking Malosky Stadium. "I have a lot of energy but sometimes when you get in the suit you completely change ... You drop your personal life and now you are a mascot."

His first game was a sold-out UMD home football game and since then he's been breaking out his signature dance moves and high-fiving fans at volleyball matches, basketball games, community events and — his personal favorite — men's hockey games.

"I like the atmosphere," Korum said about working hockey games. "When it's packed and we are a top-ranked team right now it's really cool to be able to skate around and look around and (think), 'Wow, I'm actually doing this.' "

Although Korum isn't the only UMD student with the most recognizable job on campus, Brian Nystrom, director of marketing and corporate relations at UMD, said he definitely is a Champ people seem to recognize.

"Folks know when it's him because he is very outgoing and very playful as Champ and really interacts well with all of our fans at all of our venues," he said.

As he entered his fifth year at UMD, Korum was on the fence about whether he'd continue donning the canine costume. It was his girlfriend, Stephanie Raehsler, who reminded him how much he loves his role as Champ.

"I told him, 'Why not just push out one more year and that way you will know these upcoming games are your last and you can really make it your best.' " she said.

As for his plans after graduation, Korum said he's entertained the idea of entering the professional mascot world and has even consulted with Nordy, the mascot of the Minnesota Wild.

"It's a tough gig to make a living off of but we'll see," Korum said, noting that even pro sports mascots often have second jobs.

For now he's taking his girlfriend's advice — living the Champ lifestyle and making the best of his final season on the ice.

"He's definitely got the air about him that he's Champ," Raehsler said. "Everyone calls him Champ. He's always going to be Champ."