MADISON, Wis. — The local gym in Rob Havenstein’s hometown of Mount Airy, Md., featured a sliding weight scale that was wholly unequipped to accurately evaluate his true mass. The scale, Havenstein admits, reached about 350 pounds, which would be adequate for 99.9 percent of people on this planet.
But Havenstein’s size makes him appear not of this world.
“Once you hit about 360, it was a crapshoot,” he said. “It was kind of whatever. So I got on and checked it every now and then like, ‘Oh it’s not terrible.'”
Until Havenstein arrived at the University of Wisconsin for football practice as a freshman in 2010, the 6-foot-8 offensive lineman had no idea how much he actually weighed. And what he saw was frightening: 380 pounds.
“I stepped on and thought, ‘Oh, that’s not good,'” he said.
Bulk as a lineman is as necessary a trait as arm strength is to a quarterback. But Havenstein wasn’t simply bulky. He was overweight and not prepared to compete at the level required to excel on the Badgers’ dominant offensive line.
And so began a three-year transformation that would see him lose more than 50 pounds.
Havenstein worked with team trainers to change his diet, cutting out the bad habit of eating late-night snacks. He quit eating carbohydrates — such as a bread bowl from Panera — after 5 p.m. In the process, he trimmed his weight all the way down to 327 pounds for the start of this season, which is no minor accomplishment for someone playing at a position group that generally prides itself on gaining weight.
“It wasn’t exact like at this time you eat that,” Havenstein said. “It was just don’t eat crap. Don’t do stupid things. Don’t go out and get a one-pound burger, slurp down four Mountain Dews, fries with ranch, then go out and get a hot fudge sundae. You can’t do stupid stuff like that. I’ll have the chicken, greens, eat as many fruits as I want and all that stuff.”
Meanwhile, Havenstein spent his days learning from an offensive line in 2010 that would go on to have every starter play in the NFL: left tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard John Moffitt, center Peter Konz, right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Ricky Wagner.
“I thought I was working hard to get to a spot until I was immersed in it and learned from the older guys,” Havenstein said. “They showed me the way of how to do it.”
Havenstein took a redshirt year in 2010 and then appeared in 13 games with one start in 2011. He stepped into the starting right tackle role as a redshirt sophomore last season and has held the position for 20 consecutive games.
Offensive line coach TJ Woods described Havenstein as a “big, physical, nasty dude.” But he noted there was more to him than simply his mass.
“Rob’s agility for his size is elite,” Woods said. “He’s moving a lot of mass, a lot of body. With Rob, it’s been maturing into a veteran player, and he’s done a great job at that and really becoming dominant and not just good. I think he’s starting to do that, too.”
Size runs in Havenstein’s family. His twin brother, Jeff, is a 6-8, 230-pound forward for Longwood University, a Division I basketball program in Virginia. Rob said his dad, Gary, stands 6-6, though he didn’t play sports and was a teacher. His grandfather, Doug Stewart, is 6-8.
“My grandpa, I know he always tells the story of how he got offered to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Havenstein said. “At that time playing in the NFL, if you couldn’t cleat a guy in the head if you saw him on the ground, you couldn’t play pro football. Which is his quote. I don’t know if that’s true or not.”
Speaking of the pros, Havenstein is slowly putting himself in position to be the next in a long line of Badgers offensive linemen drafted into the NFL. His size is intriguing, as is his developing skill set. Even before the season, his name began popping up as one of the 15 best offensive tackles in the country.
But Havenstein, a redshirt junior, recognizes there is plenty left for him to learn before he reaches that point.
“I’d say it’s kind of a while down the road for me,” he said. “I’ve definitely got to improve the way I play to start thinking about that. I haven’t heard anything about that.”
Havenstein noted he had strived to improve his overall technique as a lineman, particularly in pass protection. He worked on developing his punch when engaging a defensive lineman. Before, he would let players run into him and hope his size could hold them off. He also continues to hone in on staying low to the ground for leverage on the defender, which is especially difficult for a player his size.
While ridding himself of those technical flaws, he has managed to impress his head coach.
“I think Rob’s done a great job,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “He’s been physical in the run game, he’s been technically working at continually becoming the pass setter that he wants. He wants to be a tremendous player in the run game and the pass game. But the way he’s been consistent is very, very impressive. I like where he’s at. He’s a big part of that offensive crew.”
Just not as big as he was three years ago. And for Havenstein, dropping weight proved worth the wait.