Oh, lineman! ... Remember this ex-Gator?
Like thousands of others in the mesmerized legion at the recent Van Halen concert in Tampa, I came away astounded -- albeit for an entirely different reason.
It wasn't David Lee Roth's middle-age-defying leg kicks, Eddie Van Halen's nimble mastery of the fretboard, nor the on-stage chumminess the pair displayed after years of animosity.
What floored me was what I encountered beforehand -- at a restaurant across the street from the St. Petersburg Times Forum.
There, shuffling patrons to booths and issuing directives to hostesses, was ex-Gator and Tampa Jesuit High lineman Pat Browning -- with a shaved head and closely-cropped waistline.
Roughly a decade after a series of knee surgeries and off-field trouble ended his career, Browning, whom I covered in college and high school, has lost approximately 175 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame.
"The hard part about losing weight, the part that so many people struggle with, is weight loss must be a complete life change," Browning said in an e-mail several days later. "I know I will never be overweight again and that's a great feeling. It is a simple concept, burn more calories a day than you put into your body!"
Browning, whose enigmatic playing career ended when his scholarship wasn't renewed after the 1998 season, was a shade over 300 pounds in his prime, but had ballooned to nearly 380 by '99.
He said he an on-campus encounter with ex-Gators lineman Kenyatta Walker changed his life. When Walker began mocking his weight in front of several others, Browning said he went home, looked in the mirror and barely recognized the image staring back at him.
"I never got to thank Kenyatta," Browning said, "but he truly changed my life!"
Fresh off his fifth knee surgery at the time, Browning joined a local fitness center and began swimming an hour a day. Within nine months, he had dropped 100 pounds.
Eventually, he got his knee back in shape with the help of a trainer and started running three to five miles a day. By the time he graduated, moved back to Tampa (in 2002) and began dating his wife, Sarah, he was down to 245.
At this point, Browning said he was subsisting on little more than two cans of tuna a day. Sarah put him on a low-carb, high-fiber, high-protein diet (lots of fruits and vegetables), and he immediately dropped another 20 pounds.
"It's hard to see pictures of myself back in those football playing days," said Browning, one of only four Gator true freshmen to play on UF's 1995 SEC title team. "So many things in my life have changed for the better since losing all the weight."
In a few months, Browning will give up his restaurant manager's job, and move to North Dakota with Sarah, who will be a professor at North Dakota State. Browning said he plans to teach social studies and coach prep football.
"I plan on bringing my knowledge of healthy eating to young people," he said. "I feel like our youth in America, much like myself in my younger years, have a severe lack of information about lifelong healthy eating habits."
JOEY KNIGHT, Times staff writer