Northern Iowa's Eglseder grows into starring role
Northern Iowa senior center Jordan Eglseder used to live by what he dubbed the ``just whatever'' approach to eating.
Much like other college students, Eglseder ate anything he wanted. Those eating habits produced results: meniscus tears, a bulging disc and a stress fracture in his foot.
Eglseder headed into his final year with the 20th-ranked Panthers in danger of being remembered for a decent but injury-plagued career, a far cry from the outsized expectations that followed Northern Iowa's first 7-footer to campus.
With the help of Northern Iowa's training staff and some willpower, Eglseder, 21, has drastically improved his eating habits over the past year. That's helped keep him on the court, which in turn has helped the Panthers (16-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley Conference) ascend atop the Valley standings and into this week's Top 25 for just the fourth time in school history.
Eglseder, who has dropped from a high of 298 pounds to about 270 is averaging career highs of 12.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while anchoring a defense that's allowing just 55.2 points a game.
Most important, Eglseder has started every game for the first time in his career.
``It's taken his body a while, from a maturity standpoint, a strength standpoint, to be ready. And a big part of that is staying healthy. That's finally happened now,'' Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. ``Because of that, he's been able to make tremendous strides.''
It wasn't easy for Eglseder to change his conditioning habits. After all, he didn't need them growing up.
Eglseder stood head and shoulders above the competition at tiny Marquette High in Bellevue, Iowa, a small town on the Mississippi River. He was raw, unpolished and constantly battling tendinitis in his knees because of the extra weight he was carrying. Still, Eglseder was a three-time All-State pick, averaging 26 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks a game in his senior season.
Eglseder knew he would have it tougher in college, so he took his first stab at eating better with a self-made diet of chicken breasts, fruit and little else. He dropped 40 pounds in four months, so he went back to his old ways and saw his weight float back up to around 280 pounds.
His conditioning was even worse. According to Northern Iowa strength and conditioning coach Jed Smith, Eglseder couldn't do a pull-up or a pushup when he arrived on campus.
``When this kid came in as freshman, he was probably I would say the weakest - no, he was, not probably - he was the weakest athlete I've ever coached,'' Smith said.
The injuries began to mount.
He tore the meniscus in his left leg as a freshman. He missed a month with a bulging disc in his back as a sophomore, and he tore the meniscus in his right knee before his junior season. He recovered from that in time for fall camp for the 2008-09 season, which was expected to be his breakout campaign. But Eglseder soon developed a stress fracture in his right foot and missed five games.
All those injuries kept Eglseder from fully participating in workouts. Once Eglseder recovered from that stress fracture last winter, Jacobson began to see a transformation.
``He's just done a terrific job with his commitment to working to become a better basketball player,'' Jacobson said. ``Much more confident person, much more confident player and it's really a result of how hard he's worked.''
The trick was to keep Eglseder healthy for his final season. So Smith approached Eglseder about changing his diet last spring, and Eglseder readily agreed.
Smith took Eglseder to a local grocery store and loaded him up with healthy foods. Out were larger meals scavenged from the cupboards. In were smaller meals of fruits and vegetables, fish and chicken.
``The kid loves to train. He's an animal. He loves it. He's spent a lot of hours developing himself to where he is right now,'' Smith said. ``He was a novice to training, really didn't do much training at all. Didn't understand diet, nutrition. The kid wants to be good.''
Eglseder also signed up for the on-campus meal plan. He eats there to keep himself disciplined and, frankly, because the big man doesn't want to cook.
``It used to be, come home and eat baloney sandwiches or throw in a pizza or hot dogs or something like that,'' Eglseder said. ``That's definitely not part of it anymore.''