Large Illini wants to be lean, mean

Large Illini wants to be lean, mean

Lose a pound, gain a compliment.

That's the welcomed trade-off these days for Antoine McNutt, a University of Illinois football player with a sudden dearth of girth. OK, so he's still big as a dorm room, but 290 pounds sounds and looks a lot better than 375.

Ron Turner thinks so. The Illinois head coach has made McNutt the poster boy for his team's successful summer workout program. Turner can't talk enough about the sophomore's transformation from rolls to role model. "He was working out three, four times a day," Turner said.

Pat Moorer thinks so. The Illinois strength coach called McNutt's calorie-cutting efforts "unmatched." Strong words from someone who used to make ironing boards out of Florida Gator stomachs.

His girlfriend thinks so. McNutt said she was impressed with his new and improved look when he popped by for a recent visit. "Didn't recognize me at first," he said.

Most important, McNutt thinks so. For years, he's been trying to shed pounds, but somewhere along the line a triple cheeseburger or two always messed up the plans.

Not this time. He went cold turkey with fast food and hasn't abused the drive-thru since. He's feeling chipper, moving quicker and playing better.

"The difference was that nothing was going to stop me this time from losing weight. Nothing," McNutt said. "I put it in my mind that if I had to run five, six, seven times a day, that's what I would do."

Running in right direction

Not that McNutt had any choice but to pull a Jenny Craig.

When he talked with Turner in the off-season, McNutt was read the riot diet act: Lose weight, or lose any chance of suiting up. He chose to sweat, not surrender.

"I said to myself, 'I've got to help this team,' " he said. "Now's my time to shine."

No matter how sore he is.

Six weeks under Moorer's guidance had McNutt feeling like Craig Virgin. Three times a day, five times a week, he ran around campus, the first jog starting at 6:30 a.m. and the last at 4 p.m. In between, he lifted weights for one hour.

So attentive to conditioning was McNutt that he gave up his summer job and limited his summer school course load to seven hours.

"McNutt's been through a lot this summer," Moorer said. "I don't know a lot of people who'd be willing to come in day in and day out and do what he's done. But he knew it'd be rough."

Moorer would drive around campus at 5 a.m. to set up a route for McNutt to run. An hour later he'd meet McNutt outside the locker room with directions. Not once was McNutt late.

"Coach Moorer, he got after me," McNutt said.

Once a week, McNutt had to weigh in and meet a preset pound goal. On Moorer's scale.

"He knew if he was supposed to be at 310 and he came in at 315 that we'd spend all night working until he got down to 310. Our agreement was that he wouldn't leave," Moorer said. "He met every goal."

Room for improvement

Sleek doesn't translate into starter. The 6-foot-3 McNutt still is a second-string offensive lineman. UI coaches experimented last week with McNutt on the defensive front but reversed their thinking.

"I'm ready to play," McNutt said.

He wasn't a year ago, seeing action in two games.

"Too much unwanted weight," Moorer said.

At 300 pounds-plus since his freshman year at Chicago Vocational, McNutt said too many trips to Domino's did him in. Pizza, chicken wings, breadsticks. But no dessert.

"No dessert because they don't have any," McNutt said. "That's why I stopped going there."

At Moorer's insistence, McNutt changed his eating habits. Fried is out, fresh is in.

Now comes the hardest part: staying trim (in linemen's terms). If McNutt falls off the wagon, he falls from Turner's favor.

"I don't have the appetite I used to anymore," he said. "I've trained myself not to eat like I did before, and that's not easy to do. I'm on the ball."

Jim Rossow is sports editor of The News-Gazette.

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