Six weeks into his first NFL season Jevon Kearse was finally disheartened. The Titans' defensive end had stood his ground against linemen who outweighed him by as much as 100 pounds. He was so impressive in Tennessee's first three games that he was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. Now Kearse is staring at a lumpy, white mound in front of him, a defeated look in his eye. He can deal with gargantuan offensive tackles and double teams, but the curdled pile looming ominously before him?
"I'm just not a cottage cheese man," Kearse says, pursing his lips and shaking his head. This setback is minor, though, in what has been Kearse's toughest test as a pro—maintaining an adequate playing weight. The chiseled, 6'4" Kearse is still listed at 265 pounds on the Titans' roster, but in recent weeks he has dropped almost 20 pounds. Strength and rehabilitation coach Steve Watterson, concerned that Kearse's eating habits were no match calorically for the rigors of the NFL, has started him on a daily regimen centered not in the weight room but in the dining room of Kearse's suburban Nashville town house. On this night, in an effort to consume roughly 3,500 calories, Kearse—while steering clear of the cottage cheese—attacks most everything else lying on the two catering trays before him, a cornucopia of steak, chicken kabobs, grilled trout, pasta with scallops and shrimp, crab salad, chicken salad, potatoes, garlic bread and a fruit basket. "If I don't put some weight on," he says through a mouthful of chicken, "I'm in trouble."
Kearse's weight was never a problem during his career as a linebacker at Florida, where his other physical assets—4.55 speed, 40-inch vertical leap, 86-inch wingspan and hands that measure 12 inches from thumb to pinkie—and pass-rushing instincts made him a quarterback's nightmare. The 16th pick in the draft, he burst onto the scene with 20 tackles, three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles as the Titans bolted to a 3-0 start, but when Kearse couldn't keep his weight up, Watterson sought advice.
Enter Majid (Magic) Noori, executive chef and director of the athletic training table at nearby Vanderbilt who has worked with several other Tennessee players. Noori designed a daily diet of up to 6,500 calories that he hopes will have Kearse back upnear 265 pounds by mid-November. In Kearse, Noori sees a willing—if occasionally challenging—subject. "He likes to go out," Noori says of Kearse. "When he does, I beg him, 'Please, have a pasta dish. You must have a pasta dish.' I have to stay on him."
In the Titans' 24-21 win over the Rams on Sunday, Kearse had five tackles and a sack and forced a fumble. "It was Halloween," Kearse said. "The freak had to come out." Across the line St. Louis right tackle Fred Miller was called for five false starts and two holding penalties.
As for the diet, Kearse says he has already picked up five pounds. He believes Noori is someone to be trusted and respected, every bit as valuable to him as a position coach. "But instead of telling Jevon to make a tackle," Noori says, handing a protein shake to his eager pupil, "I tell him to eat a pear."