TUCSON - Willie Tuitama reported to campus on Wednesday wearing a throwback UA basketball jersey, size XXL. The baggy look was more about style than Tuitama’s substance.
Arizona’s junior quarterback has dropped 25 pounds since a series of head injuries sidelined him midway through the 2006 season.
Tuitama is now a muscular 225 pounds, a bulky-but-nothefty weight that better fits his 6-foot-3 frame.
“I feel lighter, and — I know it’s weird — I feel a little quicker, too,” Tuitama said. “I want to stay this way.”
Tuitama and 80 other veterans checked in at fall camp on Wednesday. Arizona started practice Thursday with Tuitama as the first-string quarterback and the key to executing the Air Zona offense.
“He’s trimmer than he’s ever been, which tells me that he’s in better shape,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “He needs to be in great shape.”
Like anybody, Tuitama altered his diet to drop the weight.
Tuitama now drinks almost exclusively water instead of Gatorade, the salty sports drink that he used to chug like, well, water.
A 20-ounce Gatorade bottle has 125 calories. Tuitama now makes regular trips to Costco to stock up on the zero-calorie, clear stuff.
“I drink it by the cases,” he said.
Tuitama has also cut out most red meat and fast food in favor of chicken.
Most nights, Tuitama and his roommates, running back Xavier Smith and linebacker Xavier Kelley, search for a creative way to cook. Kelley is the best cook of the three, though Tuitama concedes they are running out of recipes.
“There are a lot of ways to make it, but there’s not that many ways to make it,” he said. “We eat a lot of chicken at my house.”
Tuitama’s dietary changes are simple and effective: cut out fatty meats and sugars, refine the fuel he puts into his body resulting in weight loss.
“A great diet program will beat a great weight program any day,” Arizona strength coach Corey Edmond said.
Tuitama’s weight has gone up and down since he arrived on campus two years ago weighing 202 pounds. He added about 15 pounds by the time he was named the Wildcats’ starter in October 2005.
Tuitama faced his biggest challenge in 2006, shortly after suffering a concussion in Week 2 against LSU.
He was still eating like a football player but was forbidden from participating in any physical activity while his brain injury healed. During that time, Tuitama — who had started the season at 235 pounds — ballooned to about 250.
He looked and felt slow.
At the time, Tuitama believed the extra weight would help him absorb tackles. He has since changed his tune.
“I realized you don’t really want to get hit at all,” he said. “The key is to avoid getting hit.”