IN 2004, 24-year-old Jesse Chatman was a running back with a big future. Even as he was gaining yards for the Chargers—392 while averaging an excellent 6.0 as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup—the then third-year veteran out of Eastern Washington was also gaining pounds. Limited by toe and groin injuries, Chatman recalls, "I would suit up for games, but I was eating, and not practicing, throughout the week." A weakness for Mexican food in a city that boasts some of the finest didn't help. "I'm a big cheese fan," says the 5'8" Chatman, who also admits to a soft spot for guacamole and sour cream.
By season's end the once 220-pound Chatman had bulged to nearly 270, and at training camp in 2005 the Chargers cut him. After hooking on briefly with Miami and then New Orleans, Chatman was out of the league by midseason.
Today, Chatman, who missed last season, is thriving in the Dolphins' backfield at a svelte 223. Here's how he got there.
November 2005--January 2006
After being cut by the Saints, Chatman spent a lot of time on the couch, eating and not exercising. Top weight: 283 pounds.
September 30, 2007
Determined not to be "one of those guys that was a coulda, woulda, shoulda story," and unnerved by the history of diabetes in his family—his maternal grandmother died from complications of the disease—Chatman began an exercise regimen. Several days a week he woke at 7 a.m. to jog up to five miles on a San Diego beach. In the afternoon he went to a gym to use a tread climber, burning at least 800 calories. A few evenings a week, he says, he played basketball for hours "until my feet hurt."
Chatman became a member at a 24-hour fitness center, stepping up his cardio work. (He sometimes trained at 3 a.m.) He often was joined by ex-NFL receiver Az-Zahir Hakim. Chatman also began substituting stir-fry for fried food.
Hakim got signed by the Lions, a motivator to Chatman, now down to 245 pounds.
Unable to get below 236 pounds, Chatman hired a trainer, Will Hicks, who put him on a diet (box, right) and devised a killer workout. At its crux was a four-times-a-week interval-training program in which Chatman, on an elliptical machine or treadmill, alternated between 15 seconds of sprinting and 15 seconds at a normal fast pace. He'd go for 50 minutes, take a five-minute break, then go again. On off days Chatman rotated among a relaxed cardio workout (a mile run), a more intense cardio workout (sprinting two miles of hills) and one in which he ran a grueling series of football patterns—screens, hooks and option routes—at full speed. He began to see results, perking up, says Hicks, when his baggy jeans "started falling off his butt again."
Jan. 19, 2007
Cam Cameron, Chatman's offensive coordinator in San Diego, was hired to coach the Dolphins.
Late January 2007
Chatman, stepped on a scale to find he was down to 223 pounds. He arranged a weigh-in with Chargers trainer Jimmy Collins and, after chugging pickle juice en route to the team's facility (vinegar burns fat), he came in at 221 pounds. Chatman faxed his official weight to Cameron.
Feb. 22, 2007
The Dolphins signed Chatman to a one-year, $595,000 contract.
After a preseason in which he carried 18 times for 116 yards and had 52 yards on six catches, Chatman made Miami's roster. He has averaged 4.2 yards on 10 carries this year, with 10 catches for 63 yards. He says nothing drove him on the comeback trail more than setting an example for his son, Sahvere, and daughter, Jaylynn. "If I had quit," he reflects, "how could I not expect them to quit at something?"
Biscuits and scrambled eggs with cheese; grits with cheese, hash browns and pork sausage
"If I was cooking": mac and cheese, pinto beans and rice, corn bread, fried chicken
Oatmeal with sliced strawberries. Egg whites with scallions and mushrooms
Spinach salad with sliced chicken
Vegetable stir-fry, with chicken mixed in. Or grilled salmon or tilapia lightly seasoned with oregano and lemon. No meals after 7 p.m.