Except for false starts, holding penalties and the occasional pancake block, offensive linemen are practically invisible, which is strange because at 300-plus pounds, these behemoths are just so, well, visible.
Besides Nicholas Petit-Frere, that is. Or was. The Ohio State right tackle, whose last name translates from French to “little brother,” currently weighs in at a hefty 302 pounds, but in June 2018 the then true freshman from Tampa, Florida, tipped the scales at a relatively meager 268 pounds. Lil’ bro, indeed.
Carrying the weight of two average-sized 16-year-olds would be more than enough for most men. Just not enough for offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti, who took one look at Petit-Frere and knew he needed to bulk up.
“Coach Stud was harping on me the most,” Petit-Frere said. “He said, ‘If you want to … do the things you strive to do, you have to gain weight.'"
And so it began, an eating regimen straight from "Lord of the Rings." First breakfast. Second breakfast. Six meals, with assorted snacks mixed in.
Petit-Frere consumes about 6,000 calories a day, but early on was ingesting about 8,000. By comparison, according to verywellfit.com, a 32-year-old, 5-foot-9 male needs 2,600 calories a day to maintain his weight.
Marotti’s winter workouts are calorie killers, so Petit-Frere was burning cals fast, which meant he needed to replenish them quickly. Forget carb loading. This was devour the entire bakery.
Fortunately, Ohio State football nutritionist Sean McMickle is involved in the meal planning.
“Over the winter (the coaches) said, ‘We understand you need to get a lot of calories in, but you can’t just drink soda every day,’” Petit-Frere said. “It’s not like you should be eating a pound of sugar or melted cheese. You have to be smart.”
But not necessarily hungry. Analogy: You’re sitting on the couch after dinner, already stuffed from the meal but eyeing that bag of chips. Just because. You eat a few. (translated: 20). Then wish you hadn’t. That is Petit-Frere times 10.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “There would be a lot of times I was just forcing it down and I just don’t feel good.”
Discomfort was baked into the plan. Per coaches’ instructions, Petit-Frere needed to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.
He wasn’t alone. Freshman offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi arrived on campus at 270 and has blossomed to 295.
“Wow, does he look like a million bucks,” Studrawa said.
It is an oddity of the O-line position that a player gets better by getting fatter. Since beginning his anti-diet, Petit-Frere’s body fat percentage has increased from 8% to about 15%. Coaches want it at about 22%. But his 40-yard-dash time has dropped by a half-second, and he has become more of a force at moving other forces.
“We’ve got some big kids around here at Ohio State that we have to move, so what I learned quickly is I can’t be light and still play the way I did in high school,” Petit-Frere said. “You have to have size and a bigger body. For me, it wasn’t about trying to change my body to make me healthier or leaner. It’s about more mass and size while also trying to maintain a healthy body.”
That last part can get tricky, especially when Petit-Frere scarfs down an entire loaded Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, good for about 2,000 calories. Hey, only 4,000 more to go.
“Everyone says I have a hard stomach. I can eat pretty much anything now,” he said, shrugging.
Word of caution: Don’t sit too close to him during meals.