Atonio Mafi able to dominate for UCLA after shedding 70 kilos

Late at evening, craving the consolation of Flamin’ Sizzling Cheetos, he hears the phrases.

For those who lose the load, you’ll have a shot.

Eager for his mother’s lamb chops swimming in coconut milk, he hears the phrases.

For those who lose the load, you’ll have a shot.

Wishing he may splurge for his favourite In-N-Out order of a triple cheeseburger, double-double, animal-style fries, common fries and a strawberry milkshake, he hears the phrases.

For those who lose the load, you’ll have a shot.

The phrases are annoying. They hold him ravenous. They momentarily make him need to abandon this complete giving-up-what-he-loves insanity.

Atonio Mafi marinates in these phrases, the UCLA offensive lineman remembering how he as soon as strained the dimensions at 411 kilos, stretching the material of his XXXXL jersey on a body measuring 6-foot-2.

At his lowest moments, he contemplates how these phrases saved his profession.

Having dropped the load equal of a third-grader, now all the way down to 340 kilos, the fifth-year senior considers how he’s going to push by way of his starvation yet another time.

Yep, right here come these phrases once more.

“That’s what I keep hearing when those certain times come in,” Mafi mentioned of the moments when he’s tempted to present in, “and then I go and chug a water and get full off of water.”

He’s misplaced the load. He’s received a shot.

Each chew he took, his thoughts thanked him. His physique didn’t.

His favourite fast-food meal consisting of 5 beef patties with cheese plus a double order of fries and a shake added as much as 3,240 energy and 177 grams of fats, in line with dietary info supplied by In-N-Out and FatSecret. That’s greater than 150% of the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration’s advisable calorie consumption for at some point.

Equally fattening spreads have been scarfed down at house, Mafi relishing each chew of his mother’s Lu Pulu, with its savory beef or lamb wrapped in taro leaves and different Tongan delicacies. Staying true to his Polynesian heritage, Mafi appreciated to drown every little thing in mayonnaise, as soon as even making an attempt it on pizza.

He laughed when requested what types of tabs he stored on his consuming.

“That’s why I was big,” he mentioned, “because I wasn’t counting my calorie intake.”

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi performs towards USC in November 2018. Mafi’s additional weight typically left him fatigued in follow.

(Jesus Ramirez / UCLA)

His all-time recorded excessive of 411 kilos got here the primary time he stepped on the dimensions contained in the Wasserman Soccer Heart earlier than fall coaching camp in 2018. Oh, dang, he thought. Roughly 25 kilos had been packed on within the previous months whereas he recovered from an Achilles’ tendon harm suffered in a highschool playoff sport.

When Mafi crammed into the gadget resembling an enormous egg that gamers name the “bod pod,” it revealed one other disturbing quantity — 40% physique fats.

He was issued an outsized mattress and pants to accommodate his size-50 waist, however there was no simple reply for the fatigue that overtook him in follow. Solely minutes into every session, he was dragging.

“After the first or second period,” Mafi mentioned, “I was gassed.”

Small victories adopted. By slicing again on what he ate or upping his cardio each time he binged, he slimmed all the way down to round 390 kilos by the season opener. He was the one true freshman starter on the defensive position — his authentic faculty place — after profitable the job in camp. By the primary sport of 2019, he was at 357.

A swap to offensive line got here in 2020 amid the staff’s scarcity of our bodies on the place. However Mafi’s weight remained regular, hovering round 355. These additional kilos stored him from discovering the acceleration wanted to achieve linebackers each time he tried to dam downfield.

None of his standard tips may assist him get any thinner. His motivation fluctuated like his weight.

When he began winter quarter in January, the dimensions mirrored his waning focus. He was again as much as 377. His remaining season beckoned.

Getting into the world at 9 kilos and 21 inches, Mafi was born to eat. It’s a part of his tradition.

“In the Tongan house, there’s always food,” mentioned his father, Peter. “It’s just the way it is.”

Atonio — ‘Nio, his friends and family call him — devoured everything, with one exception.

“He’s not into greens,” Peter mentioned with a hearty chortle.

At all times the most important child in his class, Atonio began to comprehend he was completely different across the fourth grade. He was the one one increasing exponentially. There was no pediatric development chart that utilized to him. He stored getting in bother for roughhousing after unintentionally bowling over pals.

Similar to his older brother, Atonio exceeded weight limits for youth soccer. The choice was rugby. It was the game his father had starred in professionally again in his homeland, incomes the nickname “Tongan Steel.” Peter’s exercises in these days included a 40-minute swim between islands.

Atonio Mafi stiff-arms a competitor during his rugby playing days.

Atonio Mafi stiff-arms a competitor throughout his rugby taking part in days.

(Petelo Mafi)

Atonio would sometimes break off a long term, utilizing his girth to pulverize anybody in his approach, however his effectiveness was restricted by the fatigue that instantly set in due to the additional kilos he lugged.

Lastly freed to play soccer in highschool, Mafi emerged as a two-way standout. He led San Mateo Serra to its first West Catholic Athletic League title in 48 years whereas changing into the primary lineman to win the league’s participant of the 12 months award.

Mafi had at all times needed to go to UCLA however didn’t obtain a scholarship provide. He was set to attend California till he seen that Jerry Azzinaro, a Golden Bears assistant below coach Justin Wilcox, didn’t attend a recruiting go to. About half-hour after Wilcox left Mafi’s house, a reporter known as, inquiring about rumors that Azzinaro was headed to UCLA to develop into a part of new Bruins coach Chip Kelly’s employees.

Mafi didn’t remark however knew what this meant. Azzinaro had been doggedly recruiting him and certainly would need him to come back alongside to his subsequent college.

“I looked at my dad,” Mafi remembered, “and said, ‘I think we might go to UCLA.’”

Solely two gamers on UCLA’s roster have appeared in each sport Kelly has coached on the college: Mafi and security Stephan Blaylock.

Being there may be one factor, dominating one other.

As Kelly sized up Mafi throughout a gathering in January, the veteran guard weighing greater than he had since he was a freshman, the coach laid it out plainly. If Mafi needed to shine in his remaining faculty season and make the NFL, he wanted to commit to vary.

For those who lose the load, you’ll have a shot.

The phrases caught with Mafi like one among his tattoos. They echoed each time he crammed his plate and was tempted to cheat the weight-reduction plan plan he formulated with Ross Shumway, the staff’s nutritionist.

Breakfasts normally consisted of yogurt and fruit in order that he wouldn’t overstuff himself earlier than follow. That was the straightforward half.

“You watch what he’s doing on the field right now, and you kind of get excited.”

— Chip Kelly, UCLA coach, on Atonio Mafi

Navigating the world-class buffet unfold contained in the staff’s follow facility meant mastering a brand new form of playbook. Mafi loaded up on salads, and if he added any croutons then he’d should skip the carb of the day whether or not it’s rice, potatoes or bread. His plate was additionally invariably piled excessive with no matter protein was obtainable, be it fish, rooster or beef. Tougher practices meant he may take pleasure in barely bigger parts.

The objective was to eat 3,500 to 4,000 energy per day. Mafi despatched photographs of meals to Shumway for suggestions and tracked every little thing he ate on Notemeal, a vitamin app that additionally supplied a instructed blueprint for the sorts of issues he ought to eat.

Coaches would arrive on the follow facility within the morning to see Mafi already churning away on the elliptical machine or the stationary bike, having gotten there as early as 6:20 a.m. Placing on headphones to settle in for an episode of “Criminal Minds” on his iPhone, Mafi knew that as quickly because the present was over his exercise was accomplished.

Encouragement got here from teammates who seen his slimdown.

“We miss the outdated ‘Nio,” one would say with a smile.

“Don’t get too skinny on us,” one other would child.

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi takes part in training camp drills.

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi takes half in coaching camp drills Aug. 17. Mafi is watching his energy and changing into a extra fluid pressure on the sphere for the Bruins.

(Sam Lazarus / UCLA)

Garments began to suit looser. He went all the way down to an XXXL jersey and a 42 waist. He not wanted a seatbelt extender on airplanes. When he sat within the “bod pod,” he discovered his physique fats was now at 26%.

Mafi was getting nearer to a measurement that might prolong his profession. The common weight for an NFL offensive lineman on the finish of final season was 314 kilos, with New England’s Trenton Brown the heaviest at 380.

At 340 kilos, Mafi had primarily reached his goal weight. He hasn’t been this mild since he was a freshman or sophomore — in highschool. If he dropped 5 extra kilos, nice. If not, it’s simply as nicely.

His motion is extra fluid, his elevated stamina permitting him to make these downfield blocks he couldn’t beforehand.

“You watch what he’s doing on the field right now,” Kelly mentioned, “and you kind of get excited.”

Nobody’s happier than the participant who’s a fraction of the person he was, Mafi not needing to commandeer the entrance seat each time he hops in a automobile with teammates.

Reflexively calling shotgun, Mafi is reminded he not wants all that house.

“You ain’t that fat no more,” a teammate will say, “hop in the back!”

No downside. He’s misplaced the load. He’s received a shot to be no matter he needs.