Wrestling fans at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City couldn't have known it then, but the 125-pound high school state final in 2005 was much more than your typical championship match.

The bout pitted Southern Regional High School's Frank Molinaro against Winslow Township's Jordan Burroughs.

Molinaro, a three-time Press Wrestler of the Year, won the first of his three New Jersey state titles with a one-point overtime victory.

Eleven years later, the two are teammates on the United States Olympic Team.

"We broke through into the finals, and here we are now on the Olympic team together," Molinaro said. "It kind of blows my mind. It's fun even thinking about it."

After a stellar career at Nebraska, Burroughs has become one of the most storied American wrestlers of all time. The South Jersey native is a three-time world champion. He won Olympic gold in 2012 and will be the Olympic favorite in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

For Molinaro, there is still some work to be done.

Molinaro earned a spot on the U.S. team but will still need to qualify his weight class for the national team's participation in the Olympics.

His first attempt fell short over the weekend. The 27-year-old Barnegat native failed to finish among the top three at a qualifier in Mongolia.

Molinaro will travel to Turkey for a last-chance qualifier May 6-8 in hopes of making his dreams of wrestling in the Summer Games a reality. He will need to finish first or second there.

At the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on April 9, Molinaro wrestled his way to the 65kg (143-pound) title in freestyle in dramatic fashion.

"It feels really good, really satisfying to be able to say that all the things I've been doing and all the discipline and never cutting corners - it all paid off," Molinaro said.

Molinaro was a four-time All-American and an NCAA champion at Penn State, but what he accomplished this month may have been even more impressive.

He didn't have the luxury of a hometown crowd as the Trials were held at Carver Hawkeye Arena at the University of Iowa - home to one of Penn State's top rivals.

Molinaro also entered a loaded 12-man bracket as the No. 9 seed.

He opened the tournament with a technical fall against two-time NCAA champion Kellen Russell.

He followed that by knocking off Iowa star Brent Metcalf, the top seed in the bracket. He is a two-time NCAA champion and four-time World Team member.

Molinaro beat Metcalf 3-3 in the first of three matches he would win by tiebreaker criteria that day.

He then beat four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber 5-5 to set up a finals showdown with 19-year-old phenom Aaron Pico.

Molinaro lost the first match in the best-of-three finals but didn't lose again. He beat Pico 4-3 in the second bout and then used a four-point move to win the last bout 4-4 on criteria.

Even world champion Burroughs was impressed. He took to Twitter to show his former opponent some love.

"Molinaro won 3 matches today by tied score criteria. What a small margin of error. That's mental toughness!"

Molinaro said the accomplishment hasn't really sunk in yet.

"Winning three matches with 15,000 people booing me - I can't even come up with a good explanation other than mental toughness," Molinaro said. "At the end of the day, it just comes down to fight and who wants it more, and that's when I feel like I'm at my best."

Adam Lynch is the director of operations for Penn State wrestling. He's a former teammate of Molinaro's and was one of his workout partners leading up to the trials.

"It was just awesome," Lynch said. "You kind of got goosebumps seeing him do that. It was probably one of the craziest runs that somebody has had at the Olympic level.

"It was really incredible. I was so proud of him. Frank has always worked hard, and he's always been very committed, but he just took it to another level for the trials and it paid off for him."

Faith and family

Molinaro has continued his wrestling career, but his life has changed drastically in recent years.

Molinaro was an assistant coach at Penn State this past season and continues to train as a resident athlete in the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

In 2014, he married Kera, an assistant coach with the Penn State gymnastics team.

The couple's first son, Kason, is coming up on his second birthday, and they are expecting again. They even have the name picked out.

"Frank Anthony as long as the ultrasound was right," Molinaro joked.

Molinaro has become a devout Christian and credits his faith and family with much of his continued success.

"In 2015, things didn't work out for me, and stuff happened in my life," Molinaro said. "I was drawn to God after that, and the rest is history. It really has changed my life and what my priorities really are right now.

"I couldn't have won the Olympic trials on my own. I put my trust in God, and he has guided me."

Molinaro said life is good on and off the mat.

"In terms of my happiness and balance and perspective, I couldn't be any happier," Molinaro said. "I get to coach with the best program, the best staff in the country and be around some of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and I have a great wife and kids. I am really blessed."

Molinaro hopes to qualify for Olympic participation at the last-chance qualifier in Turkey in May.

He hopes to get a chance to realize just how incredible his run through the Olympic trials was, but that day hasn't come yet.

"There are moments where it kind of hits me how insane the whole tournament was and how I survived it," Molinaro said. "But I can't focus on it now because I feel like there is still something bigger for me ahead. I want to ride that high as long as I can, hopefully to an Olympic title."

Can't get enough High School sports? Get the latest scores, game highlights and analysis delivered to your inbox each week

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Load comments