And that's the battle. Wilfork had been a running back in Pop Warner, but by the time he was a freshman at Santaluces Community High in Lantana, Fla., he weighed 275. He shot up to 370 while sitting out a college season for academic reasons, played defensive tackle for the Hurricanes at between 338 and 350 and weighed 323 at the 2004 combine. The Patriots like him at a "program weight" of 325, and it is a source of constant frustration to Wilfork.
"I played at 345 pounds in college, every snap, in the heat," says Wilfork. "Up here they want me at 325. They tell me if you're 20 pounds lighter, you're going to do this or that better. That's a bunch of baloney. I don't buy it. As a player I don't feel stronger or faster at 325. I've had a hard time coping with that. But that's just me."
Actually it's not just him. Hampton also hates fighting weight. "I feel better when I'm a little bigger," says Hampton, who's listed at 325. "I do get a little more tired when I'm heavier, but I also get tired when I'm constantly trying to lose the weight. Say you're a little guy, walking around at 180 pounds. Then your boss tells you to come to work every day at 170. You know how hard that is?"
The Steelers have given Hampton financial incentives to keep his weight in their designated range. Three times a year—at the beginning of training camp, at the beginning of the season and in early December—he gets on the scale. If he hits his target weight in all three sessions, he gets a $1 million bonus. "If you offer me $100,000, with the money we make, I'm just going to weigh what I want to weigh," says Hampton. "But for a million dollars I'll get there. That kind of bonus benefits me and the team." (Most NFL big men have similar clauses, albeit not for as much money.)
Ngata would like to move in the other direction. He came into the league as a run-stuffing 335-pound nosetackle from Oregon but now plays as a 3--4 defensive tackle against the run and on the nose against the pass. A former rugby player at Highland High in Salt Lake City, Ngata is freakishly agile and tries to improve his movement skills in the off-season. The Ravens like his weight where it is, at 350, and he accepts that. "But I'd like to be a little lighter," says Ngata. "I think I'd be more consistent. The more you weigh, the more pressure it puts on your knees, your back. And at the end of the season, when it's cold out, you're not sweating and you get even heavier."
The official weights published on team websites, in game programs and in this story? Some of them are absolutely wrong; the rest are just probably wrong. Hampton says, "Big men do not want you to know their real weight. Anything you hear from one of us, it's not accurate. We kind of hold on to that. It makes us feel like we're still a little sleek, you know." Hold for that Hampton laugh: There it is.
Hampton's 325? "Not accurate," he says. He divulges his true weight on the condition that it not be published. It is higher than 325. Not crazy higher, but higher. "The team knows the real number," says Hampton. "And I know it."
Ngata's official weight is 350. "Right now," he said in mid-December, while sitting on an overmatched stool in the Baltimore locker room, "I weigh 347, 348."
Raji's roster weight is 337. "That's close," he says. "We'll leave it at that."