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For the biggest guys in sports, it's the littlest things that stand out about returning to "civilian life."

Like handling a flight of stairs without sweating. Or sitting comfortably in a compact car. Or tying one's shoes.

"When you're an O-lineman, you can't exactly bend over and tie your shoes," explained Devon Dietrich. "You have to kind of cross your leg up to get it up to your gut."

For the past five years as a Montana offensive lineman, Dietrich and his linemates have had a singular focus in their athletic ventures. To be the best they had to be the biggest, consuming close to three times the recommended daily caloric intake in order to swell beyond 300 pounds and become football's version of the immovable object.

But what happens when the final whistle sounds? There is life after football, and that much weight has no place in a healthy one.

"That's the type of stuff where if you don't change your lifestyle, you're talking about taking years off your life," added fellow lineman Max Kelly.

To add years back, three of Montana's recently graduated linemen have been subtracting pounds. Dietrich and Kelly have each shed about 75 pounds while Ben Weyer is down more than 55 as they make the transition to a post-football world.


The diversity of athletes in the game of football matches the variety of responsibilities on the field. Quickness and speed are rewarded at many positions, while girth and strength are the top requirements for others.

The 2016 Montana football roster featured a dozen players who weighed in at 300 pounds or more. All were in the trenches -- 11 of them on the offensive line -- where physical domination of the man inches across from you is the goal.

One-third as many such sizable young men played for the Griz just 10 years ago, which matches a trend that extends across college and professional football.

Bigger is better.

To get that way, they're eating tremendous amounts of fat-heavy foods, said Dr. Chuck Dumke, a professor of exercise science at the University of Montana. To maintain such weight with their football activity requires more than 5,000 calories a day. For those trying to gain more, which is practically all O-linemen coming out of high school, the number can reach closer to 7,000.

"These diets for offensive and defensive linemen, they're hugely macro-nutrient focused -- tons of protein, tons of fat," said Dr. Dumke, who teaches a course on nutrition in sports and exercise in the Department of Health and Human Performance at UM.

"They're the type of people who would want to participate in a chicken-wing-eating contest, because they're trying to not just retain weight but grow and get even bigger."

Lifting weights and working out is an important part of the equation, but it all starts with the fuel for the machine. Linemen eat four or sometimes five meals a day when trying to bulk up. A 10- or 12-egg omelette is followed by a protein shake ahead of a double chicken breast dinner with potatoes and another shake.

Between each massive meal is more food. Kelly described attending classes at UM with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches packed in both pockets.

"Not because you're hungry, but because you need to eat. That's your job," said Kelly, who is now a chiropractic student in San Francisco after graduating from UM in December.

"Every meal -- you have to eat until it's painfully full," added Dietrich, a grad in marketing management and psychology just this past weekend. "Then two hours later you have to eat again. ... It's a trap. You can keep constantly overeating and never be able to break that habit regardless if you're still playing football."

Such extreme and sudden weight gain comes with consequences for the body -- and the wallet.

As scholarship players, the university provides athletic grant-in financial aid. For a full scholarship, that covers not only tuition, books and fees but some living expenses like room and board. The stipend shakes out to about $950 per month for football players as of last year, not including summers.

Whatever is left after rent and other monthly costs goes to the student for living expenses. At the rate that linemen eat, the remaining lump is far short of a sufficient food budget.

Dietrich and Kelly, once roommates, estimate they made trips to the grocery store once every two or three days. And not just to purchase a few items. Full grocery runs measuring about $100.

"My No. 1 tip would be get a Costco membership," joked Kelly before turning serious. "... If you were (living) only on the money they give you, you can't make it work. You couldn't play football. You couldn't be in school. No way. You either have to have a bunch of loans in your name or you need help from your parents."

Then there's the effects on the players' bodies. Internally, such a diet comes with elevated cholesterol and tryglycerides, which can leave a person susceptible to cardiovascular disease and a slew of other severe health problems if unaddressed.

Externally, back pain and joint inflammation become constant companions, made worse by the non-stop collisions while playing the game.

"I don't know how much weight I was carrying in my trunk, but it was a lot," said Weyer, who this spring completed his degree in philosophy. "Your lower back is always so stiff. My hips were constantly out of line. I was seeing a chiropractor a few times a month."


At his peak, Dietrich bent the scale at 312 pounds. At 6 feet, 4 inches, his size helped him ascend from a walk-on from Woodinville, Washington to a three-year starter at offensive guard.

Kelly, a 6-6 native of Spokane and part-time starter at guard, played at 310 pounds as a senior while Weyer, a 6-4 Bozeman product who played center before injuries cut short his career last year, reached 305 pounds.

When Montana's season ended prematurely on Nov. 19 to the rival Bobcats, the biggest Grizzlies faced a fork in the road. There's a saying about former O-linemen: When the games are through they'll gain weight or lose weight, but they never stay the same.

"With those five to 10 years of eating that way, it becomes a big challenge to flip-flop that eating pattern when they graduate from sport and need to be a healthy individual," described Dr. Dumke. "If you continue in those eating behaviors you really put your health at risk later on."

Kelly combated the habit by embarking on an immediate 10-day juice fast. He shed 15 pounds in that time.

He replaced the mountains of meat on his plate with fruits and vegetables and picked up jogging for the first time in his life. Now in his first year at Life West Chiropractic College, Kelly is down to 235 pounds and drilling extra holes in his belts.

While Dietrich focused some on what he was eating, his main point of attack was in how much. Through exercise and a drastically lowered daily caloric count, 50 pounds fell off in three months. 

"For me it really comes down to portion control," Dietrich offered. "After so many years you get used to eating as much as you can at every meal."

The final 25 pounds were a little more stubborn to cut, but Dietrich is matching Kelly on the scales now at about 235 pounds while trading in his size 44-waist jeans for 34s.

Weyer, who is rehabbing a third significant knee injury, has trimmed his way more than 50 pounds to 248 without the aid of as much cardiovascular exercise.

"To a certain extent we've all been trying to keep each other accountable," Weyer said. "We're all trying to keep up with Max."

Kelly's drive to lose was sparked by a casual bet with fellow Class of 2017 Griz lineman Jackson Thiebes about who could drop the most weight the quickest. That fizzled for now as the 315-pound Thiebes continues to push for a pro career.

Instead Kelly was left to slim down on his own. And find enlightenment.

"It's a fun adventure," Kelly began. "At anytime in your life you lose that much weight, it's a paradigm shift. ... You get to rediscover yourself."

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