ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michael Onwenu made choices during the offseason.
The choices he made weren’t designed simply to make him leaner and quicker on the football field. The choices the Michigan lineman made — and continues to make — are part of a long-term plan for life after football.
When he arrived at Michigan as a freshman in the summer of 2016, Onwenu was listed on the roster as 6-foot-5 and 350 pounds, but he went up to 375 during his first season as a college defensive lineman.
Last week, he said he has shed 15 pounds during the offseason and aims to continue losing weight, with a goal weight of 330.
“I want to get lower just for my health,” said Onwenu, a Detroit native. “It’s not really a target, but it’s losing (weight) as a whole.”
Another change for Onwenu is his position. Entering his sophomore season in 2017, he is moving from Michigan’s defensive line to the offensive line.
“It wasn’t my decision, but it was a long-term decision, as far as my future projects,” Onwenu said. “To be at any guard or any interior lineman (position), it was because of my body type. I’m a big guy, with big thighs.”
Linemen in college and professional football are big men, who typically stand about 6-3 to 6-6 and weigh north of 300 pounds.
However, when football comes to an end, some of the habits they develop have a residual effect — and not necessarily in a good way. In 2009, Sports Illustrated chronicled the steps that offensive and defensive linemen take to develop healthy eating and lifestyle habits after college, which include dietary and exercise changes.
“You realize that our bodies weren’t meant to be that big,” former Oregon OL Jeff Kendall . “As you get to be a size that is more what you are supposed to be, you feel so much better. You have more energy, you sleep better, your mood is better. It changes your life.”
Alan Faneca, a former offensive lineman who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, lost more than 100 pounds in the four years following his retirement from the NFL in 2010.
“It’s that transition that gets a lot of guys,” Faneca . “They keep eating the way they did when they were playing football, but they aren’t doing the same level of activity and not doing all the weightlifting. It starts snowballing on them and next thing they know they put on 50 or 75 pounds. Even if guys only put on a few pounds, if you were 320 when you played and 335 a few years later, that 335 looks a lot different than your 320 did when you were playing. It’s not a healthy weight.”
Onwenu is already proactive. In the fall, he professed to eating a lot of fruit — grapes are a personal favorite of his — and said he eliminated starchy foods such as bread and rice from his diet when he got to Michigan and prepared for fall camp.
He’s determined to continue those eating habits.
During Michigan’s spring practices, he’s already seen the benefits of slimming down: quicker feet, better recovery and, to his surprise, better-fitting uniforms.
“I feel it with football on the field,” said Onwenu, who has primarily worked out at offensive guard so far this spring. “I feel it during football. Last year, when we were doing gassers (running the width of the field), I’d do every other one. Now, I’m going straight through.”
In an age of buzzwords such as “body shaming” and increased concern regarding obesity rates in American society, is Onwenu at all insecure about sharing the details of his weight-loss regimen?
He seemed comfortable during his media availability last week in Michigan’s Schembechler Hall. His work on the field speaks just as clearly.
In the limited footage that has come out of Michigan’s spring practices, which are closed to the public and media, Onwenu makes a strong showing.
Big Man Alert! Objects are closer than they appear.
— Michigan Recruiting (@UMJumpmanFB)
“He’s just a big boy,” DT Bryan Mone said. “He’s been doing really good moving for how big he is … and he’s getting better every day.”
“I’m thinking long term,” Onwenu said. “That’s pretty much how I’m looking at it now. Football is going to be football, but I’m trying to live. I’m looking at what I eat, and how much I eat.
“I’m just trying to be healthy.”