UK football notebook: NCAA proposal makes eating a little less nutty

Herald-Leader staff writerApril 19, 2014 

Monica Fowler handed smoothies to players Will Tom Collins, left, and Grant Aumiller at Kentucky's Nutter Football Training Facility. The UK football dietitian and nutritionist, many affectionately call Fowler "Miss Monica" or "Mama Fowler."

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Imagine if Kentucky told its football players that it wanted them to be able to bench press a certain amount of weight by June and then told them they'd need to pay to join a local gym to make it happen.

It's essentially what the NCAA has been doing for decades, but with food, not weights.

"The nutrition part of this is part of their training," UK dietitian Monica Fowler said last week. "We wouldn't say to them, 'You need to find someone to work you out because we want you to look like this.' So saying to a kid, 'We need you to eat this kind of food and then not being able to provide that food for them is cutting their training short."

Fowler's hope is that the food aspect of the football players' training will be much less tricky come Thursday when the NCAA is set to vote on a proposal that would allow Division I schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks to all athletes, including walk-ons.

The measure also probably will make Fowler's job a lot less complicated. The way the rules are set up now, figuring out what an athlete can and cannot eat is about as easy as doing a tax return for a small business.

Every food had to fit into narrow categories to be compliant.

Football players weren't allowed to eat a hard-boiled egg because it didn't meet the NCAA's outlined "protein standards" because of the percentage of calories that came from protein wasn't enough.

Fowler has to sort through various snack and trail mixes for players to make sure there are no pumpkin seeds in it. That wouldn't be NCAA friendly.

"They're seeds, not nuts," she said. "We can only serve nuts."

Of course, she could use sunflower seed spread, which is a lot like peanut butter, but sunflower seeds couldn't be in those prepackaged snacks either.

Peanut butter was deemed acceptable by the collegiate governing board for player consumption only last year.

The rules go on and on and on, enough to fill a binder.

The hope for Fowler and other sports dietitians is that the rules become more user friendly for her and provide better nutrition options for athletes.

"Now we can give them what we think they need," she said. "We're able to feed them more often and get the kind of food in them that we want them to eat more often."

Every little bit matters when you're an elite athlete trying to consume 5,000 calories a day the right way.

"Eating a 5,000-calorie healthy diet is really very difficult to do, especially at three meals because vegetables just don't have that many calories in them," she said.

So now instead of just reminding a player to eat a sandwich before bed to get his last few hundred calories in, Fowler might be able to give him that sandwich to take home for later.

All of these changes will be beneficial to the players, Coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday noting, as Fowler did, that the logistics will still need to be worked out.

"It definitely has a drastic effect," he said of the unlimited meals rule. "It should definitely benefit these players.

"We demand an awful lot from these guys. These guys work extremely hard. ... And they do need the nutrition and they need the meals."

The catalyst for the rules change in part came from Connecticut's Shabazz Napier saying at the Final Four that he's sometimes gone to bed "starving" because he can't afford food despite his meal plan at the school.

Many shook their heads at the notion of the starving Division I athlete, but both Stoops and Fowler have seen it.

"There are definitely some times when kids go through some tough situations," the head coach said. "I don't think a lot of people realize ... you can see players that feel such an obligation to send their money home so their little baby brother or sister or mother isn't starving, too."

Recently Fowler encouraged a player to buy some flaxseed oil to put in his smoothies to add some calories. He told her he couldn't this month because he had to send some of his meal money home.

"I know that it happens here and that's a full scholarship athlete that said it to me," she said. "They come up here and they don't have tons of money. This idea of the privileged athlete is really false when you truly get into it."

Bonus for walk-ons

One of the other beneficiaries of the NCAA's ruling, should it pass, will be walk-ons.

The way the rules are set up now, those players can have fruit, nuts and bagels from the snack room, but the full team's regular training table meals have to be pre-paid by the players' families or they have to get their meals elsewhere.

Walk-ons are expected to train with the team normally and many of them need to consume a massive number of calories every day to maintain their playing weight.

Fowler recently went through Kroger with a non-scholarship player trying to help him find a way to consume 5,000 calories a day on his food budget of $200 a month.

"You know how many Ramen Noodles you can buy for $200? A lot," she said. "But you can't buy that much asparagus for $200. It's a big difference."

Contracts extended

Contracts for several of Kentucky's coordinators and coaches were extended and amended this spring.

The salaries for coordinators Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot remained unchanged, but their deals were extended a year to 2017. Assistant coaches Derrick Ansley, Jimmy Brumbaugh, Tommy Mainord, John Schlarman and Chad Scott all received an extra year on their deals, which will now run through 2016.

Brumbaugh (defensive line), Mainord (wide receivers) and Schlarman (offensive line) each received a $25,000 raise this season while running backs coach Scott got a $40,000 bump, putting his salary at $240,000.

Ansley, the cornerbacks coach, had a clause in his previous contract that significantly altered his salary in June, following a year when he was still under contract with Tennessee. This season, he will make $250,000.

The new salaries have these coaches earning nearly $400,000 more than the coaches on Joker Phillips' staff when they departed.

Dupree glad he stayed

Leaving early to play in the NFL was something Bud Dupree considered for more than a few minutes this off-season.

Kentucky's junior defensive end said Monday that a chance to go to the next level was tempting.

"You never know when somebody wants to get some money in their hand, it's hard to turn things down when you really didn't have it," Dupree said. "I just wanted to come back to benefit myself and my teammates and my coaches."

UK Coach Mark Stoops, who has had defensive players such as Florida State's Bjoern Warner and Tank Carradine among others go high in the NFL Draft, consulted with several people and met with Dupree about that decision.

"He told me I've got the same potential, could even go higher (next draft), so I just listened to him because he's got experience in this," Dupree said.

The UK defensive end heard that he was a likely second- or third-round draft pick and he opted to come back to school, get bigger (he's listed as 15 pounds heavier on this spring's roster) and grow under Stoops.

Dupree is focusing on improving his play recognition, and playing better and faster in space. He's also trying to become a vocal leader.

"I just want to be an all-around player for Stoops," said Dupree, the Cats' leading returning tackler with 61 last season, including a team-best 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Legend likes UK's progress

A mentor for more than a few of Kentucky's defensive coaches was on campus to take in practice and offer some constructive feedback for Stoops.

Pete Jenkins, a legendary defensive line coach at the professional and college levels, pointed out to Stoops how far the UK line has come in one season.

"Sometimes when you see it every day, you want to make those steps faster, but he knows, and he told me, it's a much different team, a better looking team," Stoops said. "It looks like we're more physical and all that. So it's good to hear that from somebody that spends a lot of time going to a lot of spring practices and has been around the block."

Jenkins' name has come up many times during the UK staff's first year.

On signing day, Stoops mentioned that the cohesion of himself, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh (who played for Jenkins at Auburn) was one of the pitches to land Matt Elam.

On media day last summer, Eliot said that most of the defensive line techniques that have made Stoops and him so successful came from time spent with Jenkins.

Eliot discussed some of those techniques, too.

"Probably one of the biggest is that we coached our defensive linemen and had to make plays," Eliot said in August. "When we were at Florida State, one of our leading tacklers was a defensive end. So those guys, you know, really concentrated on not only executing their responsibility within the defense, but also how to get off a block and make a play."

Jenkins was more than just a coach to Brumbaugh.

"Coach Jenkins has been a father figure to me," the UK defensive line coach said. "He's been a guy that developed me and taught me how to do things. He made me a three-time All-SEC player by what I did, because I wasn't the biggest guy but I learned how to do things. Just to have him back here to watch my guys, watch them work, watch me coach, it's a blessing."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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