When I consider my time at the University of Virginia, I like to remember all the success stories that allowed me to get to where I am today. However, it is also important to reflect on the mistakes I made that were in conflict with where I was striving to go.
One area that caused me some trouble was my eating habits. At home my mother cooked healthy meals and taught me about the value of making good food choices, but in college, making good food choices were now my responsibility. I found this particularly challenging for two reasons, the first one being that I didn't have a lot of time to eat based on my college schedule, and the second reason was I did not always like the food at the university cafeterias and training table.
My class schedule mixed in with my football responsibilities forced me to move around quite a bit. I can remember during the season waking up at 6 a.m. in order to be on time to lift weights. I then attended two or three classes based on the day, before going back to the football facility for practice and meetings.
Trying to sit down and eat meals with my schedule became a challenge, so I would just grab anything that was quick so that I wouldn't be late for my class or meetings. To make matters worse, I would skip meals at times when I didn't like what was being served at the university cafeterias or training table.
My food-related choices had negative consequences on my weight, which become a topic of concern amongst my coaches. My strength coach was aggravated because I was unable to hit any of my weightroom goals. My offensive line coach was concerned because I was not strong enough to push the defense around — instead, they were pushing me backwards.
My head coach, Al Groh, was informed of all my shortcomings and decided to intervene in a way that certainly got my attention. Coach Groh sat me down and told me his concerns about how I was not physically developing and if I could not get my weight and strength up, he would be forced to redshirt me. Mind you, I was starting at left tackle for two years at this point. I got the message loud and clear.
After speaking with my mother about the inconsistency of my eating schedule and the negative consequences I now faced with my coaches, we decided I needed a new way to get calories. The answer would be found in a product called Ensure Plus, a meal supplement. I would use Ensure in the morning, between classes and even before practice. I would go through a sixpack of Ensure almost daily and this steady regimen of calories allowed me to build size and strength in no time. I would not be redshirted.
Changing my eating habits and choices were critical for my success as a college athlete. I was forced to understand the consequences of my actions by my coaches, but I also experienced, when done correctly the positive affects changing my eating habits had on my performance on the field.
In the end I learned the most valuable lesson of them all: When in doubt, call your mother for advice.
Next Week: Having a Complete Nutritional Plan in the NFL