Jake Marcey put down his plate of food.
“I’ll be right back, man I’m going to get some more stuff,” Marcey said, leaving his sandwich, chips and side salad on the table. A couple minutes later he returned, holding a 10-piece box of chicken nuggets and a container of waffle fries from Chik-Fil-A.
Marcey’s appetite may not differ from those of all his classmates, but his purpose behind his diet certainly does. While his classmates eat for fuel or sustenance, Marcey, the starting left tackle for William and Mary, eats in order to keep his job.
The average weight of an offensive lineman in the Colonial Athletic Association is 291 pounds. Marcey is listed as 300 pounds in the Tribe game-day program, although the official list of player weights is notorious for having more holes than a Dan Brown plot.
While Marcey says he weighs close to 300 pounds, that is definitely a weight he struggles to maintain. With a frame befitting the former high school wrestler that he was, Marcey must load up on calories and stay well acquainted with the weight room in order to maintain his playing weight.
“I’m kind of used to it now, but the one thing about here is that they have never told me the weight they want,” Marcey said, laughing. “It just seems like they’re never happy with it. They’re upset if you’re too fat, upset if you’re too skinny. It’s hard to get the median.”
In the old days, players drank milk shakes and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in order to pack on the pounds. These days, coaches can hand out protein shakes and Power Bars, although the traditional methods remain. Players try to take in an absurd amount of calories to turn them into muscle and bulk.
“During games, you can lose 10 to 12 pounds easily,” Marcey said. “I know I lost at least 12 pounds against Delaware. During the game, you will always lose around six to seven pounds, just sweating it out.”
Since the day he arrived on campus as a 280-pound freshman, Marcey has worked closely with Head Strength and Conditioning Coach John Sauer to gain weight. The two have developed a weight lifting plan for Marcey, helping him add muscle weight. Try as he may, however, Sauer cannot control his players’ diets, meaning that much of the process of putting on weight remains in the players’ hands.
“What I try to do is give them information,” Sauer said. “The biggest thing is you have got to eat three meals a day. You see guys come in to train at eight o’clock in the morning and the cafeteria doesn’t open until seven. A lot of guys roll out of bed and come to me without having had breakfast … and the next time they have something to eat is one o’clock in the afternoon.”
Marcey eats four to five meals a day, which means having breakfast each day and eating before every workout or practice. Every Thursday, the offensive line has breakfast together, as well as a post-practice meal at Paul’s Deli. Marcey has also been known to make late-night runs to fast food restaurants, not as much for fun as for self-preservation.
“I always eat before working out, no matter what time of the day,” Marcey said. “If not, I just can’t finish the workout. If I lift I have to eat a Power Bar before. It’s rough.”
Charles White knows what Marcey is going through. During his days as the starting center for the College from 1994 to 1995, White weighed 260 pounds during his playing days, 30 pounds more than he weighed in high school.
“For some people, it’s not that big of a deal to put on weight, but for me the effects were more concentrated because my natural body weight was probably closer to 200 pounds,” White, a two-time all conference selection, said.
To gain the weight, White adopted many of the techniques that Marcey uses today. White remembers heading over to Paul’s Deli at 11 p.m. to eat two William and Mary Cheeseburger Deluxes and a Hot Holly in one sitting.
Marcey’s restaurant of choice is McDonalds, where he often orders two Big Macs, a large order of french fries and a 10-piece box of chicken nuggets.
“I do that a couple of times. I don’t think [the people behind the counter] know it’s only just for me,” Marcey said.
Marcey needs the extra calories. Last spring, despite keeping to his workout routine, he fell to 275 pounds. A “get-it-together” meeting with Sauer and the coaching staff helped Marcey put the weight back on, but Marcey believes his natural weight would be around 230 pounds if he were not playing football.
White, who weighed 178 pounds four years after graduation, remembers feeling above his natural weight in his time at the College, and the work it took to return back to a more natural size once he graduated.
“The first 20 pounds came off by not forcing myself to eat more, by stopping when I felt full,” White said. “Leaving the weight room behind made a difference, too. Getting down to 230, 225 was not challenging. The next 30 pounds was the real hard work. I took up jogging, putting in road work, and lost 50 or 60 pounds.”
Ken Kambis, the chair of the kinesiology department and a former football player himself at Catawba College, understands the health risks associated with being overweight, although he is clear to draw a distinction between overweight and over-fat.
“You have be careful when you talk about weight to make clear what type of weight you are talking about,” Kambis said. “I rarely use the term overweight or underweight; I’d rather use the term[s] over-fat or under-fat, because then you take the issue of total body weight out of the system.
“When we talk about a person needing to gain or lose weight, I want to make clear that we are talking about a person needing to lose excess fat weight or a person needing to gain additional muscle mass and some fat mass to support it.”
It is when a player is over-fat, as opposed to overweight, that their leptin levels begin to rise, according to Kambis. Leptin is a protein hormone that regulates energy and controls the amount of calories a person can handle.
According to Kambis, when a player’s weight rises, in most cases so does their “fat thermostat,” or the amount of calories a person feels he or she needs to intake to maintain his or her normal energy output. In short, the bigger someone gets, the more he or she gets used to being big and the more likely he or she will eventually get bigger.
“When we gain too much excess fat, we produce leptin, which causes our appetite to be suppressed while also stimulating a decrease in energy output or activity,” Kambis said. “So we’re stimulated with too much fat to do more exercise or eat less until we get our fat levels down to normal.”
According to Kambis, it takes a year or two to reset one’s leptin levels and bring the fat thermostat back down to normal. Sauer, who helps many players design workout routines after their graduation from the College in order to lose weight, is well aware of the dangers associated with a high fat thermostat.
“Really what it is, is their diet,” Suaer said. “After they get done playing, a lot of them keep eating like they are still playing, which is where they run into problems. A lot of our guys, when they finished playing, are smart about it, watch what they eat, and get into exercising, riding the bike and stuff.”
White remembers the changes he went through physically once he returned to his high school playing weight.
“What I definitely remember is when I was 230 to 235 [in high school] I felt the normal aches and pains from football, but no aches and pains from body mass,” White said. “At 255 to 260, the aches and pains were not from the football game.”
Marcey says he experiences many of the same lower back aches White felt during his time at the College; however, he knows he must continue to put on weight, even when he feels like he cannot eat anymore.
“It’s like pouring air into an already full balloon sometimes. It’s like it is hard to blow out more air when it is already full,” Marcey said. “It’s rough sometimes.”