Frank Molinaro has picked up a few nicknames throughout his illustrious wrestling career.
The Barnegat native and Southern Regional High School alumnus wrestled to chants of "Frank the Tank!" throughout his high school career and the three state titles he won at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
As he started gaining national attention as one of the best wrestlers in the country at Penn State, he became known as "Gorilla Hulk," in reference to Molinaro's impressive build, similar to the aforementioned tank nickname.
Molinaro hopes to add just one more title to the list this weekend - national champion.
The Penn State senior and three-time all-American is the No. 1 seed at 149 pounds heading into the NCAA Division I wrestling championships that run Thursday-Saturday.
Molinaro expects nothing less than to walk out of the Scottrade Center in St Louis on Saturday with a national title.
"It's laid out in front of me," Molinaro said. "The work has been done. I'm feeling good and I'm finally starting to peak at the right time and just having fun when I'm out there."
Molinaro had a blast at the Big Ten championships earlier this month in leading the Nittany Lions to a second straight team title. Penn State also is the defending national champion.
Molinaro, who was the national runner-up in 2011, defended his Big Ten title without allowing a single point. Molinaro pinned in the quarterfinals, won by technical fall in the semifinals and then again in the final.
"That was extremely impressive," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. "Frank wrestled awesome. This is the second year in a row in the Big Ten that he didn't give up a point, and to do that with getting tech falls and bonus points is pretty exceptional."
Sanderson is a legend in the sport as an unbeaten (159-0) four-time NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist.
But even Sanderson said he is impressed with the mystique surrounding Molinaro. He'd always been known for his intense training style, but video of his workouts went viral early in his career and the legend has only grown from there.
Teammate Justin Ortega created a rap song devoted to Molinaro. Footage of some of Molinaro's workouts and interviews on the Internet. "Gorilla Hulk" shirts were sold to benefit charity.
"You can't have a name like that unless you are the man," Sanderson said. "And Frank is the man.
"He wants to be a national champion and he's doing everything he needs to do to make that a reality."
Molinaro was hard on himself following a loss to Cornell's Kyle Dake (the No. 1 seed at 157 pounds this season) in last year's 149-pound national final and said he put too much pressure on himself at the start of this season.
He finally decided to trust the work he put in and the results speak for themselves. Molinaro is 28-0 entering the tournament and looking to become the fifth four-time all-American in Penn State history.
"I have done everything possible to put myself in a position to win a national championship," he said. "I just believe that I'm going to win this year and there is nothing that can take it away from me as long as I keep working. It's mine for the taking."
Molinaro will face Cornell's Chris Villalonga in the NCAA preliminary round. Molinaro beat Villalonga 9-3 earlier this season.
Molinaro could face as many as four wrestlers he already has wins against this season on his way to the final.
"On the mats and in training he's been going hard," said teammate, roommate and friend Dylan Alton.
"I like his chances. I don't think anybody is going to be able to touch him. Nobody wants it as bad as him."
Molinaro is 17-0 against 2012 NCAA qualifiers this season. One wrestler he hasn't faced is Oklahoma State's Jamal Parks, the No. 2 seed.
He hasn't seen Parks on the collegiate level but did wrestle him in the finals of Senior High School Nationals.
Parks won 10-5, but Molinaro said he wasn't at full strength in that match, which was more than five years ago.
Molinaro said he made the mistake of going to a buffet the day before the tournament and remembers one questionable tuna sandwich that he deemed responsible for a bout of food poisoning he picked up.
That loss - like the tuna - doesn't sit well with Molinaro.
"I can't tell you everyone that I've beat, but I can tell you everyone that I have ever lost to," he said. "That is one I want to avenge."
Contact John O'Kane: