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Southwest Washington high school football linemen say healthy weight gain is key to play

By , Columbian staff writer
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While some high school athletes cut down on what they consume to keep their weight low, linemen like Camas High School's Carson Osmus are in the opposite situation. Earlier this year, Osmus attended a football recruiting showcase and came away with an eye-opening realization. "Everybody was 30 or 40 pounds on me, and pushing me around," he said. "I was exercising a lot, but I wasn't eating enough. I needed to eat more." Osmus added 30 pounds in the off-season, eating 4,000-5,000 calories per day.
While some high school athletes cut down on what they consume to keep their weight low, linemen like Camas High School's Carson Osmus are in the opposite situation. Earlier this year, Osmus attended a football recruiting showcase and came away with an eye-opening realization. "Everybody was 30 or 40 pounds on me, and pushing me around," he said. "I was exercising a lot, but I wasn't eating enough. I needed to eat more." Osmus added 30 pounds in the off-season, eating 4,000-5,000 calories per day. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Ask Carson Osmus about his 1,000-calorie homemade protein shake, and the Camas High School offensive lineman lists go-to ingredients for weight gain: protein powder, Greek yogurt, peanut butter and bananas.

“Sometimes, if I worked out a lot that day, I’ll add some chocolate milk,” said Osmus, a junior.

For months prior to the 2022 high school football season, Osmus’ focus on football centered around food. In addition to daily workouts, he consumed 4,000 to 5,000 calories per day. That’s because back in January, the teenager attended a football recruiting showcase and came away with an eye-popping realization that had nothing to do with football.

“Everybody was 30 or 40 pounds on me, and pushing me around,” he said. “I was exercising a lot, but I wasn’t eating enough. I needed to eat more.”

While some high school athletes cut down on what they consume to keep their weight low, linemen are often in the opposite situation. Most aim to become big, strong and athletic to accommodate a growing teenage body and growing demands of an evolving position.

Adding size and maintaining strength requires a lot of calories. It’s especially true for those with post-high school football aspirations. At age 16 and standing 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Osmus added 30 pounds of good weight since January. He now weighs 270.

“I loved being 240 (pounds),” he said. “I felt great, but I was like, ‘Man, if I want to go far in football, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to get some muscle. I’ve got to put on some fat, as well.’ ”

How local linemen eat

On a typical school day, Kelso’s Brady Phillips never skips breakfast. The Air Force football commit starts by eating eggs, sausage and toast. For lunch, he’ll grab two hot meals from the cafeteria, and bring one from home to munch on throughout the day. When dinnertime comes, “that’s when it gets heavy and I try to eat as much as possible,” he said.

Phillips, a son of a former Division I lineman, is a four-year starter for Kelso and entered high school in 2019 weighing 260 pounds. He aims to hit 5,000 calories per day to keep his weight at 280. Consuming food “all the time” can be difficult, Phillips said.

“Just eating constantly, because you’re always content,” he added. “And then adding on top of it is just another level — just a little bit more each time. It’s tough.”

For more than a year now, Prairie’s Ben Kapelka has focused on a stricter eating regimen designed by his personal trainer. He loads up on the major food groups, including healthy portions of protein foods, vegetables and fruit. He got serious about his strength, conditioning and nutrition in the summer of 2021, and prefers a defined eating schedule.

He also works to correct stigmas surrounding linemen and nutritional habits.

“Most linemen, you’re going to assume that these guys are just eating a bunch of crappy fast food all the time,” Kapelka said. “We definitely can eat a lot of food. But a lot of us actually watch what we eat. We’re bigger people to begin with.”

Some athletes may race to add as much weight as possible, which is one of the reasons why Brad Packer, owner of Advanced Athlete Academy and Portland State University’s strength and conditioning coach for football and volleyball, emphasizes education on nutrition.

It can be an eye-opening conversation about food intake. With all the high school athletes he works with, Packer often includes parents or guardians in those talks, so the adults have a better understanding of what their child needs when Packer discusses nutrition.

“Even the kids who think they’re doing a good job with nutrition, they’re lacking,” Packer said. “It’s eye-opening for them to have to grasp how much food they actually have to take in just in order to compete with what’s going on.”

So, how can young athletes eat up to 5,000 calories a day and remain healthy? Packer stresses “the right calories,” beginning with proteins and clean carbohydrates and encourages more frequent eating beyond three meals per day.

Packer also oversees nutrition for Portland State athletes, and makes it a point to teach all athletes how to best fuel their bodies through nutrition.

“We always talk to them about performance — eat for performance,” he said. “What are you doing in the next two to three hours? Are you making a plan to eat three or four times throughout the day in school? Do you know which teachers you have that are going to allow you to have two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during class?”

Old ways, new practices

Linemen come in all shapes and sizes, and continue to get bigger.

The average high school lineman’s height and weight on Parade Magazine’s All-America High School Football Team rose from 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 220 pounds in 1966 to 6 feet, 6 inches tall  and 319 pounds by 2017. On that list includes the late Travis Claridge (6 feet, 6 inches tall, 300 pounds), a 1996 Fort Vancouver High graduate as one of 15 linemen named All-American from the 1995 season.

Last fall, many Clark County high school teams had at least one lineman listed at 260 pounds. Eight schools had a 300-pounder in 2021.

Linemen who spoke to The Columbian talked about hitting weight benchmarks for the 2022 season — without sacrificing their speed and agility. And hitting those benchmarks requires more than weight room attendance. While high school athletes today might be more health conscious with privatized coaching and individual training plans, previous generations had their own ways of putting on the pounds.

“We’d wait until 19-cent taco day (at a local fast-food joint) and go buy 100 tacos,” said former Heritage head coach Matt Gracey, now one of two offensive line coaches at Union. “And then there were quarter burritos. … We’d eat those for a couple days.”

Gracey added 90 pounds in his college lineman days at Victor Valley College in California and Adams State University in Colorado in the 1990s. In addition to taco overload, he and fellow linemen teammates once got booted from an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant for going above and beyond all you can eat.

“We were poor college kids,” Gracey said. “We were trying to put on weight and not exactly thinking, ‘How much protein am I getting in this meal?’ We put weight on the bad way.”

Gracey, 48, has coached high school football for more than 20 years. Now coaching Union’s offensive linemen, he preaches “lean, athletic linemen” not just because of today’s game, but also getting healthy for life. Gracey said he currently weighs 350 pounds — 40 pounds more than his highest weight in college 25 years ago.

“I look at me and how hard it’s been on my body,” he said, “to have been a big dude who put on weight to be big and then couldn’t take it off.”

Football’s changing offensive schemes in recent years have altered the face of a prototypical lineman. Richard Moreno, head offensive line trainer at Vancouver-based B12 Performance, works to improve linemen’s skills and technique and in turn, boost confidence within their frames. That includes building up linemen to take pride in their position and understanding their purpose in the trenches.

“Tying a lot of those things together for them helps them understand that when you have a purpose behind something, it’s easier to go out and execute — whether it’s in life or in work,” said Moreno, also Evergreen’s first-year offensive line coach.

Size up, slim down

Before becoming an All-Region and all-league defensive tackle, Skyview’s Ty Evans grew up playing tight end. The early COVID-19 shutdowns in spring 2020, plus no football that fall, led Evans to decide it was the perfect time to focus on his weight.

He put on pounds through workouts and eating up to five times a day. By the time the spring 2021 football season arrived, the sophomore’s weight hit 280. Chicken and rice remain a favorite combination in maintenance mode.

“That’s all I was doing,” said Evans, now a senior. “Workout, protein shake, eat, sleep, wake up — what else could you do? It was a lot, but I knew I needed to get up to this weight.”

Afterward, Evans’ biggest adjustment came learning how to play at a heavier weight without sacrificing agility. This is his third season playing at 280.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with it now,” he said.

While many linemen bulk up, Kapelka, the Prairie lineman, and Evergreen’s Koby Kast slimmed down.

Kapelka admitted to personal struggles and insecurities when he was at his highest weight sophomore year at 335 — before dropping 60 pounds after adapting new eating habits in 2021.

“When I was as big as I was, that was probably the main factor in me losing all my weight,” Kapelka said. “I wasn’t happy with how I looked and I was really self-conscious about how other people looked at me rather than how I looked at myself.”

“I just wanted to be a better version of myself.”

He’s a different lineman, too — for the better, he said — playing faster and more comfortably at 280 pounds.

Kast at Evergreen dropped 100 pounds in eight months through a nearly all-vegetarian diet and multiple workouts a day. Making conscious decisions not to eat “the bad stuff” came easily for Kast, given a newfound mindset and self-determination for change.

“Everyone knows what’s good and what’s not good for them, but it’s also like what tastes good and what doesn’t taste good,” Kast said. “A burger with bacon tastes a lot better than vegan chicken nuggets, but vegan chicken nuggets will get me way closer to where I want to be.

“Just putting that in your brain that it’s do-or-die was just the best thing that helped for me.”

Kast was cleared to resume football workouts this summer after suffering a season-ending knee injury in September 2021. He only has a handful of games playing under 300 pounds and now has plenty of motivation for on-field success in a lighter frame at 260 with more energy and confidence. He looks at past photos daily when he weighed an “unhealthy” 349, he said.

“It’s like night and day,” Kast said. “It always reminds me to keep going. There’s no way I could get back to that point. It reminds me that, ‘Hey, you’re a fighter. You can push through this. You’re a hard worker. Let’s keep going — you’ve got this.’ ”

Evans, the Skyview lineman, has college football aspirations, but already has a weight-loss agenda planned out post-football. After high school, he wants to major in psychology, earn a master’s degree in education, and become a school counselor and high school football coach. He also wants to drop at least 50 pounds.

He knows temporary weight gain — in high school and likely college — is worth it to be a lineman, just not worth it for the rest of his life.

“When football is over,” Evans said, “I’m cutting as much of the weight as I possibly can.”

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