Regulation wrestling matches at the high school level are only six minutes long.

That is why it's important that being successful during those six minutes relies on extreme dedication and commitment both on and off the mat.

Wrestlers live their sport.

The high school wrestling season in New Jersey starts after Thanksgiving and winds down with the state individual tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City today, Saturday and Sunday.

Everything that wrestlers do during those three-plus months has to be thought of in terms of the sport.

What they eat and drink.

How much and when they sleep.

When they should lift weights or get an extra workout in.

These are just a few things St. Augustine Prep senior state qualifier Tom Gattinella has considered.

Wrestlers know as much or more about nutrition than many other athletes.

"You have to make sure you put the right stuff in your body," Gattinella said. "That fuels your body throughout the day."

Gattinella swears off fast food and other junk food during the season and turns himself into a bit of a nutritionist.

"The most important thing is that no matter what, you have to get three meals in," Gattinella said. "You have to portion it down, though."

Many wrestlers, Gattinella included, are asked to cut, or lose, weight to help themselves and their teams.

Gattinella said he has had to cut weight all four seasons of his high school career and has become pretty good at it.

He weighed around 135 pounds after Thanksgiving and will compete at 120 pounds this weekend. Last season he weighed 135 and wrestled at 113.

Gattinella said he was able to maintain his weight well this season.

"When you break it down easy, at like a pound or so a day, you'll feel a lot better," Gattinella said.

Local wrestling fans were all in support of Southern Regional High School graduate Frank Molinaro when he won the 149-pound NCAA Division I national title for Penn State in 2012.

Molinaro, a three-time state high school champion, was a physical specimen when he became the first area high school graduate to win a Division I title. But he said he struggled with balancing and maintaining weight throughout parts of his career.

He even recalled being 13 pounds overweight less than two days before the start of the high school District 24 tournament during his sophomore season at Southern.

Molinaro made weight and went on to win his first state title (he won a 2-1 overtime thriller against 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs of Winslow Township in the state final).

"There are kids that are talented enough to be successful to a certain degree and not fully commit to the off-the-mat things," Molinaro said. "But the higher you climb in wrestling, the more you have to sacrifice. If you want to get to the very top, it's about committing to academic life, social life, diet, sleep, everything.

"It is a four-month commitment in all aspects of your life - not just wrestling."

Molinaro wrestled through mononucleosis his redshirt freshman season at Penn State as well as strep throat, three separate sinus infections and ulcers in his throat so bad that he was unable to drink water. He said that poor nutrition was to blame.

He fine-tuned his diet and went on to become a four-time All-American at Penn State, even earning the nickname "Gorilla Hulk" for his intense workouts and strength.

"The right way stinks," Molinaro said. "The right way doesn't entail stuffing your face at Friday's after the match and gaining 15 pounds. The hard way stinks, it does, but it doesn't stink when you get your hand raised.

"It's not fun sometimes and it's kind of a grind, but when you get your hand raised in March and you're a national champion you don't care."

Dr. Jeffrey Gong and his wife, Priscilla, know exactly how important health and nutrition can be to wrestler.

Gong has practiced internal medicine in Galloway Township for 32 years. The couple have five sons who all wrestled at Absegami High School.

"My wife didn't want daughters," Jeffrey Gong said. "And she has strong willpower."

The youngest of the five boys, Alex, graduated last season and is a freshman at Gannon University.

"Nutrition is absolutely essential," Jeffrey Gong said. "Not just for athletes, but all young teenagers should be nutritionally sound."

Gong knows that wrestlers are constantly losing, or even gaining weight, in short periods of time and isn't a big fan of that practice.

"Being in the medical field, we do not recommend rapid weight loss or gain because it's not very good for the metabolism of your body," he said. "It's not nutritionally sound."

Jeff and Priscilla said they were meticulous in monitoring their son's health throughout the wrestling season.

Things seem to be paying off for Gattinella, one of three Prep wrestlers to qualify for states. He won his first region title last weekend and will make his third trip to states.

With his weight under control, he can focus on things that matter, like winning matches.

"I'm can't wait," Gattinella said. "I'm real anxious."

Contact John O'Kane:

609-272-7210