- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

Enisha Williams only noticed the change in her husband, Mike, around Christmas when she looked at some pictures and had a means of comparison. It was both a shock and a revelation.

“He’s not a blubbery guy,” she said, “but in his face, you could just see it.”

Mike Williams, a retired NFL offensive lineman at the time, had become obese. Even when carried on a 6-foot-6 frame, 450 pounds is way too much - blubbery by any standard.

“He was not in a good place,” Enisha said. “I almost cried [when I heard how much he weighed]. My heart just hurt. I felt I was slowly but surely killing my husband.”

Williams, who is working with a personal trainer in Arizona as he prepares for training camp with the Washington Redskins, blames only himself. Enisha brought the fruit punch and juice home from the store, but nobody forced Mike to drink gallons of it. No one made him scoop the ice cream and crack open the cookies at 1 a.m. or sit on his butt for countless hours in lieu of exercising.

“You eat beyond what your body needs, and I got into a routine of eating beyond what my body needed,” said Williams, who has missed the past three NFL seasons. “And I was doing it for two years. I didn’t have any obligations. I didn’t need to be on the field. I did my business behind a desk. I stayed behind the computer six, seven, eight hours a day.”

Williams last played in 2005. A former All-American at Texas drafted fourth overall by Buffalo in 2002, he started at offensive tackle for three years, then got hurt during his fourth and was released. Jacksonville picked him up, but Williams hurt himself lifting weights and was later cut.

He played at 370 pounds in Buffalo, and even though his performance was less than what many expected, he said his weight was never an issue. Ever since his growth spurt began at 14 or 15, he was always big. He weighed more than 300 pounds throughout high school but wore it well, maintaining his quickness and agility from when he played tailback and some soccer in middle school.

“As a family, we never addressed [his weight],” said his brother, Kevin. “He was never quote-unquote fat.”

But last Christmas he was. In February, Williams checked into Duke’s Diet and Fitness Center, committed to losing more than a hundred pounds to get to 345 - which is what he weighed his junior year at Texas - by the start of training camp. By the time he checked out in April, he had lost 40.

That was only the start.

Since then, Williams had dropped another 40, down to about 365. Twenty to go - the hardest 20 - with a less than a month remaining. A Web site that tracks his weight loss has a poll on whether Williams will make his goal. At the start, a majority voted “no.” But since the pounds started melting, Williams has resoundingly turned the numbers around.

Mike Williams calls his regimen “the grind.” It boils down to exercise and common sense.

“Calories in and calories out,” he said. “Old-fashioned down and dirty.”

No pills or any other assistance. He never skips a meal, even if the meal is just a protein bar. Red meat is out, except for bison, which has almost no fat and he said is delicious. Chicken, fish and vegetables are in. Nothing fried. No carbs at night; no more of that juice. Water is the beverage of choice, more than eight glasses a day. Fruit? It has too much sugar to be a big part. And he never cheats - except for an occasional sandwich, on whole wheat, naturally.

Williams said he has lost 5 percent of his body fat and added muscle by 7 percent, which will not necessarily decrease his weight because muscle is heavier than fat. The operative term is “lean mass,” which is the weight of muscle, plus bone density, water, even blood.

“It used to be just about players making weight,” said Jane Jakubczak, the Redskins’ team nutritionist. “But we’ve seen an evolution with players that they understand it needs to be the right kind of weight. … We want to see the body fat come down, but we don’t want to see the lean mass coming down. We want to be able to maintain muscle while reducing body fat. That’s a hard thing to do.”

Jakubczak, a dietitian at the University of Maryland, met with Williams a few times before he left for Arizona, mainly going over his eating habits and making sure he’s on the right track.

“He just looks amazing,” she said.

As football players have continued to get bigger, with many lineman now resembling sumo wrestlers, the issue of weight and its effects has assumed a greater prominence. The NFL, concerned with obesity and its related ailments (cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes) and alarmed by the deaths of offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, former lineman Joe Drake and Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White, has studied its players’ shorter-than-usual life expectancies, notably among offensive and defensive linemen. The league also has been taking action.

“We’re doing a better job of educating the players, not only while they’re in the league, but also as they exit the league, we have more programs in place,” said Baltimore Ravens’ team doctor Andrew Tucker, who heads the NFL Physicians Society.

Tucker led the most recent study, during which more than 500 active players were interviewed, tested and measured. Surprisingly, the results showed even the stout lineman had cholesterol levels similar to that of the general population and were no more less prone to diabetes. The most surprising revelation was that all players, not just the big fellows, showed a generally higher incidence of prehypertension - elevated blood pressure below the level of hypertension.

Tucker is trying to figure that one out. Meanwhile, another study he is preparing will address “the fat question” specifically, as opposed to simply body weight.

“I think this has gotten the attention of the players and the larger players, specifically,” said Tucker, noting the widespread cooperation. “They’re interested. The players association was supremely helpful.”

Players have been interested for some time.

“I was always worried about my weight,” said former nose tackle Tony Siragusa, who played at about 340 pounds. “I didn’t want it to get too out of control.”

Like Williams, Siragusa ballooned when he left the game. He said his weight reached 440 before he took drastic action - lap-band surgery. Now he’s back to the 340- to 350-pound range.

“I’ve still got to worry about high blood pressure and all the other things,” he said. “When I played, I would eat all the time. Now I’m 42, and my metabolism’s slowed down. All that stuff about keeping your carbs up goes out the window.”

Williams said his comeback attempt was not the main reason he wanted to get healthier.

“Football is my life; it’s where I want to be, but it doesn’t last that long, and eventually you have to get out, which I’ve already done,” he said. “I obviously couldn’t live like the way I was living, and I’m gonna take it upon myself because I’ve got a lot more living ahead. If I want to see that, I have to change the way I eat.”

Williams said he is considering hiring a personal chef - nothing personal to his wife, a very good cook, but more for variety and educational purposes. Eating the same grilled chicken and vegetables every night gets old.

Enisha said she is all for it.

“I want to keep it interesting for him,” she said. “He’s such an exceptional guy. I’m so excited about what he’s doing and his new start.”

• Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@washingtontimes.com.

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