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Northwestern’s Niko Mafuli hopes new physique leads to big season

Northwestern defensive tackle Niko Mafuli has lost 32 pounds by watching whhe eats getting more exercise.  |  Courtesy

Northwestern defensive tackle Niko Mafuli has lost 32 pounds by watching what he eats and getting more exercise. | Courtesy of Northwestern University

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Updated: November 2, 2011 7:31PM

Northwestern senior defensive tackle Niko Mafuli doesn’t necessarily have one vice when it comes to food.

‘‘My [vice] is anything that tastes good,’’ he said.

So when Mafuli came back from the TicketCity Bowl in January weighing about 338 pounds, he looked at himself and saw someone who didn’t have a whole lot to show for his college career.

Mafuli decided to start dropping weight and taking better care of himself. When he reported to the Wildcats’ first practice Aug. 8, he was a new man at 306.

‘‘I went home and watched what I ate and worked out and came back for the summer ready to go,’’ Mafuli said. ‘‘It was mostly portion control for me. I stopped drinking Gatorade and drink water now. I do my tempo runs and treadmill runs. But my favorite was the elliptical [machine].’’

Mafuli wants to erase memories of a disappointing 2010 season that started poorly in the Wildcats’ season opener at Vanderbilt. Mafuli injured his right knee when he was blocked from behind and missed two games.

But coach Pat Fitzgerald said Mafuli’s focus was a bigger issue.

‘‘A year ago at this time, we’d get to the midway point of practice, and you could really see his fundamental technique lapse,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘That was all mental toughness and mental focus because of his conditioning.

‘‘But he has been focused and executing at a much higher level. There’s no question he’s in the best shape of his career here.’’

Mafuli might be a trim (for a football player) 306 pounds now, but he knows he has to drop more weight once he’s done playing to lead a healthy lifestyle. He can’t weigh 300-plus pounds forever.

‘‘I’m gonna get back on my elliptical because I love that damn thing,’’ Mafuli said. ‘‘I’ve got to drop weight [later in life] because 300 pounds is not healthy.’’

Mafuli went to the same high school — Saint Louis U-High — as former NU quarterback Steve Schnur, the Wildcats’ quarterback during their 1995 Rose Bowl season. Former NU running back Stephen Simmons, who graduated in June, is another Saint Louis U-High alum.

Mafuli, who graduated with a degree in communication studies in the spring, knows he has to live up to that Saint Louis U-High tradition and is hoping he can get past the frustrations of last season.

‘‘I screwed up, and I wasn’t as good as I could have been,’’ Mafuli said. ‘‘But I look forward to the challenge.’’

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