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Yoshi Nakamura sat out last season after a record-setting sophomore year (above), but returned strongly in the season-opening Keystone Classic, where he was the Most Outstanding Wrestler. (Andrew Margolies/DP File Photo)

The confidence and toughness that Penn wrestler Yoshi Nakamura possesses when he steps onto the mat strike deep in the heart of his opponents. Even scarier, perhaps, is the manner in which he outmaneuvers and overpowers each and every one of them. But now, enter the other Nakamura, the one that's off the mat. The one that has faced as much adversity in his life by age 21 as the average guy faces his entire life. Nakamura was born and raised in Elyria, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. At the age of two, Nakamura's father began training him in judo. At age 11, he captured his first national title. Two years after that huge moment, Nakamura's father died. "He was a real big part of my life," Nakamura said. "It was emotional, and things were really rough for a long time. I had a younger brother and sister, and so I had to fill in that role of the older, more mature role model." Just 13 years old, Nakamura turned to his late father's good friend, three-time Olympic wrestling coach Tadaki Hata. "Tadaki Hata took me under his wing," Nakamura said. "Before my dad passed away, he had told Tadaki Hata, 'take care of my son,' and he did." Hata sent Nakamura to Saint Edward High School, a private institution where Nakamura's wrestling career began. "Through that time, it was pretty hard for my mom and I," Nakamura said. "We struggled, but we made ends meet, and things turned out OK." Things turned out more than OK. Nakamura continued his judo career through high school, winning eight straight national titles in the martial arts form. His success in a gi has been matched only by his success in a wrestling singlet. In his junior year of high school -- just two years after being introduced to wrestling -- Nakamura won his first of two Ohio state wrestling titles. Nakamura's wrestling style has been greatly influenced by his training in judo. "The balance, strength and agility has definitely played a key role in my wrestling," Nakamura said. "I can also bend in and out of a lot of positions that other people can't. It's been a real plus." Nakamura's success in wrestling has continued at Penn. In 1999, he won both the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championship and the University National Freestyle Championship at 157 pounds. Nakamura finished his sophomore season with 33 wins, tying the Penn single-season record set by Olympic gold medalist Brandon Slay. Underlying Nakamura's ability to overcome adversity and tack credential upon credential to his already impressive resume is his konjo -- the Japanese word for fighting spirit. "My dad was very strict, and I was always told to be tough, especially being so young in competition," Nakamura said, referring to his participation in national judo competitions. "I just carried that over when I got into high school and wrestling, and now into college. If you have a fighting spirit, then you can pursue anything." Nakamura believes that many people have helped him in his journey to the top. There was obviously his father, and his mother. Nakamura's high school coach and his assistant coaches at Penn have also been pivotal, as have his fellow wrestlers, especially Slay and Clint and Brett Matter. And of course, there is the man who has led the Penn wrestling program to unprecedented success -- head coach Roger Reina. "It goes all the way up and down the line," Nakamura said. "I attribute my success to everybody." In 1999, Nakamura sustained a back injury. His condition worsened throughout the year, so he elected to sit out the season. Now, however, Nakamura is back, stronger and smarter than ever before. "I've really grown from my experience and my time off," Nakamura said. "When you get a chance to sit out and look at your sport from the outside, you really see the mistakes that you made in the past." At this season's opening meet, the Keystone Classic, Nakamura -- ranked No. 8 in the nation at 157 by Amateur Wrestling News -- showed just how much he had grown since his injury. He went a perfect 4-0 in his matches, winning his weight class and capturing the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award. Nakamura's goals for the season, however, go far beyond last Saturday's tournament. "I want to be able to finish the season this year and have no regrets," Nakamura said. "I want to win a national championship. I don't want anything less than that." Beyond this season, Nakamura's goals are even loftier. "I've really been leaning towards sticking around and training for the next Olympics in 2004," Nakamura said. "It's one of my lifetime goals." Nakamura's konjo can only lead him to bigger and better things.

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