Mark Stoops thinks his team is in a good spot
Remember that doughnut you had for breakfast on the walk to your 8 a.m. class?
Or the 2 a.m. pizza with extra cheese shared with friends on the floor of your dorm hallway?
When you’re 18 years old and making food choices for the first time, you don’t always choose the healthiest options, not even when you’re a college football player.
“That Freshman 15?” Kentucky offensive lineman Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings asked with a wide smile. “It’s true. It’s true.”
For Stallings, who redshirted in 2014, it may have been a little more than 15 pounds.
“Sometimes that first fall, it’s really hard to keep yourself on point, get your body right,” offensive line coach John Schlarman said. “It’s easy to get a little lazy.”
When the player from outside Birmingham, Ala., arrived on UK’s campus in 2014, he weighed 330 pounds.
By the end of his freshman season in 2015, he had ballooned to as much as 350.
He stepped on the scale and shuddered.
“When I seen that, I just knew it was time,” the sophomore recalled this week. “I’ve never been that big in my life. I was, like, I can’t do this anymore.”
Stallings called his older brother, Tré Stallings, for help.
“He pushed me past limits,” Bunchy said of his big brother, a four-year starter at Ole Miss who played a couple seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs. “He really just pushed me to get better. He’s always on me about my weight.”
Tré Stallings had been in that situation before, gaining and losing hundreds of pounds during his time at the college and professional levels. That knowledge was useful for his baby brother, whom the family has called “Bunchy” since he was a toddler.
The siblings spent a month together in the offseason.
It wasn’t exactly fun, brotherly love time either, Bunchy said.
They exercised together, trained hard daily.
Even more difficult than the training was the diet. Little to no carbohydrates, zero dairy.
“It was tough,” Bunchy Stallings said. “I couldn’t have butter, dairy. No milk. I was eating sprouted grain bread. That’s the only type of bread I could eat.”
“I ate a lot of just eggs and stuff like that,” he continued. “No seasoning and a ton of vegetables.”
Then he got back on campus to train more with Corey Edmond and UK’s strength and conditioning staff.
Stallings said he had “more fat mass than muscle mass and just kept pounding it in the weight room. Coach Ed got me stronger and to the place I need to be.”
That place is nearly 50 pounds lighter, now weighing in at a svelte 316 pounds.
That “place” also was a chance at a starting spot for the player who thought he would sit out again this season and learn behind senior center Jon Toth.
But Stallings’ new build, new attitude and new strength caused UK’s coaches to re-evaluate his role and move him into the rotation with the guards.
Last week, he earned his first start at Alabama over roommate Ramsey Meyers. The friendly duel has been something to watch this fall, coaches said.
“There’s a good battle there, and that’s good when you have competition,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “Both of them are going to play, so (Stallings) has been playing well.”
It wasn’t about what Meyers wasn’t doing that week, it was what Stallings had done in practice.
“He’s really risen to the occasion,” Schlarman said of Stallings. “It’s not someone else not getting the job done, it’s him doing a little better job and that’s what’s really good to see.
“I think all the guys are saying, I’ve got to pick my game up to maintain my starting spot or my role or I’m going to get passed up by somebody else. That’s something we haven’t had here much in our first three seasons and it’s good to see now.”
Coaches have seen additional power and raw athleticism from Stallings, which has made it hard to keep him on the sideline.
“Bunchy’s doing a lot of good things,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “What he is is a physical guy, but he’s very athletic. He’s quick twitch for a big guy and he’s been doing some good things.”
And it took dropping those pounds to realize the player he could become.
“I really didn’t notice it until I started losing weight,” he said. “I thought I was still able to move the way I thought I can, but I didn’t notice it until I started losing weight. …
“I feel great about it now. I can see the results. I can see myself moving faster, see myself being stronger, so just trying to keep it going.”
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
4 p.m. (SEC)