EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — McDonald’s has served more than a billion people, but the fast-food restaurant chain might have served Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Fusco for the final time.
An admitted fast-food connoisseur, Fusco gave up eating greasy cheeseburgers this offseason. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Fusco entered the NFL as an unfinished product, a sixth-round pick by Minnesota in 2011 out of Division II Slippery Rock. It wasn’t just the mental transition for Fusco, though. He knew his body needed work as well.
Fusco, with designs on winning the starting right guard spot on the Vikings’ offensive line, changed his habits this offseason. He woke early and ate a good breakfast. He trained tirelessly. And, he cut out the fast food. When he returned to Minnesota in April, Fusco had gotten dramatically stronger in the upper body and leaner all over.
Practicing at right guard with the first string during organized team activities the past two weeks, Fusco has noticed the difference.
“I feel a lot more energetic, better shape,” he said. “I’m not out there huffing and puffing and being a fatty. So I’m feeling good. I feel real good.”
Though playing with the starters in June doesn’t mean Fusco will start in the season opener September 9 at home against Jacksonville, it does show where he is in the pecking order. The Vikings have an opening after cutting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera in March and Fusco doesn’t plan on letting the current arrangement change before the season begins.
Fusco is competing with free-agent addition Geoff Schwartz and 2010 fifth-round pick Chris DeGeare. He’s been working to be the leader in that group since the offseason began.
“Actually I gained about five pounds, but I look a lot thinner and leaner,” Fusco said. “Just watched what I ate and worked out every day and just took the weekends off. Didn’t really take a break, so it was good.”
Fusco’s newfound energy and strength fits his demeanor. His teammates have noticed the difference. It would have been impossible not to see the changes from being the small-school project he was as a rookie to now.
“He wasn’t overly experienced, especially coming from a small school,” center John Sullivan said. “So, I think he had to get a little bit used to the speed of the game, the size of the guys he’s playing against. But he’s always been a mauler, very tough. That was apparent from Day 1 last year. Those are his strengths. They’re magnified this season. He’s gotten bigger, stronger, smarter. He’s going to do a great job.”
Fusco, drafted as a center, played guard in three games last season when Herrera was hurt. The only Slippery Rock player ever invited to the NFL Combine, Fusco is able to concentrate solely on guard right now.
“That helps a lot,” Fusco said. “I like playing center, too, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a lot to know, the center position. And the right guard, just to focus on one position right now, is key. My mind’s a lot less stressed.”
The Vikings could use a mauler at the guard position to help out their running game with the rehabbing running back Adrian Peterson and his backup Toby Gerhart still expected to be a focus of the offense.
Sliding one spot to the right on the offensive line has been a transition for Fusco. He said he’s used to having the ball in his hand on every play and hadn’t played guard since high school.
Fusco said his focus has been on “nothing less than starting,” and added that trying to win a starting job for the first time adds a little stress. He’s still working on certain techniques at guard. But if he can learn them, Sullivan believes Fusco will be a perfect fit next to him for years to come on Minnesota’s offensive line.
“He’s getting there,” Sullivan said. “If you can develop technique along with the type of attitude and type of physicality he brings to the game, you’re going to have a great offensive lineman.”
Thanks to a new diet and a lot of work, Fusco looks ready for the challenge.