PITTSBURGH -- Bill Fralic has the body of The Incredible Hulk and a face with the fair and innocent good looks of a Rubens' cherub. The contradiction inherent in his physical appearance is more than skin-deep.
Fralic's size and strength have been both personal bane and boon for most of his 21 years.
They made him a child football prodigy; they've helped make him one of the premier collegiate linemen in the United States, and they're expected to make him both a first-round pro draft choice and a dominant force in whatever pro league for which he chooses to play.
But his massive frame also has caused him aggravation and pain.
Already man-size as a 9-year-old, he was 'different,' one of the heaviest crosses a child can be forced to bear.
As one of the biggest men on the University of Pittsburgh's sprawling urban campus, he has been a target of thrill-seekers and macho men. He has had to learn to laugh off barroom challenges to his virility.
But Fralic is most aggravated by the fact that very few people - reporters, coaches and scouts included -- ever look beyond his size and strength to find the other, less tangible attributes that have made him a target of fear for football opponents and a prime candidate for the prestigious Outland Trophy and Lombardi Awards given annually to the best collegiate lineman.
'As far as football, they seem to think much that I've accomplished is due to my size and strength, and I think that is farfetched,' Fralic complains. 'I think I've done what you're supposed to do if you want to be a good football player, or great. Part of that is lifting weights and running and so forth, but I think the mental aspect is as big or an even bigger part of it.
'I feel when I go out there, I can be better than the other guy. Why should this guy be better than me? That's the way I look at it.'
And that's the way it almost always turns out.
'He knocks those guys about six or seven yards downfield and then falls on top of them.' -- Gil Brandt, personnel director, Dallas Cowboys, talking about Fralic's style of play.
Stereotypically speaking, there are two general types of big men in the world:
Bullies and villains like Attila the Hun and Jaws, James Bonds' cinematic foe, or gentle giants like Mike Reid, the former Cincinnati Bengal who left football for a life in music.
Fralic, however, cannot be compartmentalized so neatly.
'I'm not really mean, though I'm sure some people would disagree,' Fralic says. 'Sometimes I get mean out there. Going into a game, I don't even feel that I have to go out there and get real psyched up. I know when I'm ready to play, and when I'm ready to play, I don't feel that much animosity towards the player I'm playing against.
'I just feel that this guy is trying to do something, and I'm trying to do something, and I feel I'm going to do it better than he is ...
'I'm not a gentle person, and I'm not a mean person,' Fralic adds. 'I guess I could be mean sometimes, but I don't think of myself as gentle, and I don't go out there with the fear of hurting someone. If they get hurt, that's part of the game.
'I go out there, I want to put that guy on his back. I don't want to ruin his career, but I take some pleasure out of putting a nice hit on someone or whatever. I just look at that as part of the game.
'I don't run around growling or feeling that I want to kill this person. I'd say that it's more of a controlled violence.'
Knock those guys backwards six or seven yards and fall on them, but don't jump on them.
'I've always been big. I was always the biggest guy in my class, even in grade school.' -- Bill Fralic on Bill Fralic.
It's not true that Fralic has always been big -- it just seems that way. He was actually a normal-sized baby: 7 pounds, 3 ounces at birth.
But at 9, Fralic weighed 175 pounds. At 12, he was 6-foot even and 210 pounds. At 13, he was 6-3, 235.
'It's tough when you're younger,' Fralic says, remembering the days when he stood more than a head taller than his boyhood classmates.
'It has its advantages the older you get, but when you're younger, it's tough. Anytime you're different than other people and you're younger, it's tougher, you know.'
At least he was spared the name-:alling suffered by short children and the kids unlucky enough to be the first in their classes with eyeglasses or braces.
'I didn't know it if they did (call me names),' Fralic says, 'because they were probably always afraid. Being the smallest, you can't retaliate, but being the biggest you can.'
'I just gotta lift weights every day.' - Bill Fralic, on his addiction to pumping iron.
Despite the occasional discomfort of being different, Fralic didn't try to run away from his size the way tall girls did by wearing flats and slouching their shoulders.
Rather, he avidly sought parental permission to do something that would, ironically enough, make him even bigger -- lift weights.
'My (older) brothers both lifted weights and they got me interested,' he says. 'I always wanted to do it because I saw them doing it, but my dad wouldn't let me lift until I got to be 13.'
He was hooked immediately with a dedication parents would love to see in children taking piano or dance lessons. From age 13 on, Fralic lifted weights at least three days a week for a couple hours at a time.
'Sometimes when the other two boys were out or whatever, my mother would have to help spot and sometimes help lift the weights up or whatever,' Fralic says. He laughs.
'She probably lifted more than we did, come to think of it. She was pretty good. We just yelled at her sometimes when she didn't do the right things.'
Physically, he was mature enough for the lifting to have results.
'I started to notice gains and that right away,' he says.
As an extraordinarily strong -- as well as big -- eighth-grader, Fralic was invited to practice with the varsity during spring drills at suburban Penn Hills High. He became the first freshman to letter in football there the following year.
'He's got the biggest arms I've ever seen. He makes the average football player's arms look like broomsticks.' - Gil Brandt, on Fralic's muscles.
It's Fralic's fault that reporters and scouts and coaches are obsessed with his size. Their obsession stems from his own continuing obsession with weight lifting.
'I'm so sore half the time during the season that I lift very rarely,' Fralic says. He is complaining. Some teammates have to be dragged into the weight room; Fralic can't even be locked out of it.
Earlier this season, Pitt backfield coach Andy Urbanic, formerly Fralic's Penn Hills' coach, told a local reporter an anecdote regarding Fralic's fanaticism:
'He called me at 11 p.m. on July 3rd. He said, 'Coach, can I borrow your key (to Pitt Stadium) tomorrow to go lift weights?'
'I said, 'Bill, you're supposed to be on vacation. It's the Fourth of July. The stadium's closed.'
'He said, 'I know, Coach, that's why I need the key.''
Fralic knocked on Urbanic's door at 8 a.m. on July 4. Urbanic gave him the key.
'You can always get better.' -- Bill Fralic.
Fralic earned a 100 percent grading for his performance as a freshman in a 29-24 Panther victory. He was named offensive player of the game.
Fralic complained later that his coaches had been too generous, that he had made many mistakes.
'I think I'm way better than I was as a freshman -- in every way, every part of the game, run-blocking, pass-blocking, everything that has to do with the game I feel I've improved upon from an offensive lineman's standpoint,' Fralic says.
But that does not mean he is satisfied.
'I've never done everything I could,' Fralic says. 'I always feel I could have done better.'
Fralic was particular upsetwith his play in Pitt's 1983 season-opening victory at Tennessee.
'I was disappointed when I played because I thought things were going to be easier,' he says. 'I just wasn't ready to play that day. I knew going into the game that I wasn't.
'Like before the game, I was looking at the cheerleaders. You know what I mean? They have some really nice ones.'
Fralic laughs and blushes.
'I should have realized then and there it was not going to be a great day. I don't think I played bad against them, but I don't think I played anywhere near where I could have played.
'Don't get me wrong. I always notice everything before the game, the cheerleaders, the fans, everything, but I don't normally let it bother me. I look at it, but the bottom line is I'm thinking about what I've got to do, and that wasn't the case that day.
'But I'm glad it happened at the beginning of the season, because I caught myself.'
Never again will Fralic allow a shapely figure to distract him from his goal.
Fralic is not just a behemoth. He is a finely tuned, thinking athlete in control of his football violence, in control of his emotions and in search of perfection.
Bill Fralic, talking about his faults as a player -- 'If I tried to tell you what they were, you wouldn't know what the hell I was talking about.'