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Weighty Challenge: A Lineman's Life After Football

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Orlando "Zeus" Brown, an offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, was found dead late last month in his Baltimore apartment. The cause: diabetic ketoacidosis, common among those with diabetes.

Brown was 6 feet 7 inches tall and 360 pounds when he played in the NFL. That may sound like a lot for a football player, but it's not uncommon among today's offensive and defensive lineman, who rarely weigh less than 300 pounds.

Brown is one of five NFL lineman who have died in the past decade from weight-related ailments. A few years ago, Scripps Howard News Service surveyed former players and found the heaviest ones are more than twice as likely to die before their 50th birthdays.

College Linemen Also Struggle With Weight

But the NFL isn't the only place where weight is an issue. College linemen who, for a variety of reasons, are not going pro, also find themselves grappling with the health issues that come with their sizes.

James Harris, nutritionist and assistant athletic director for the University of Oregon, tells Robert Smith, guest host of weekend on All Things Considered, that he worries most about his offensive lineman when they leave. They still have the appetites, but no longer have the structured workouts to burn those calories.

"I have a guy who's come back to me after four years to say, 'Will you help me?' because he's 380 pounds and he was 280 pounds when he stopped playing," Harris says.

Going from 308 pounds to 240 pounds

That's something that former NFL player Ben Lynch can understand. He was an offensive lineman for four NFL teams; his longest stint was with the San Francisco 49ers.

When he retired, he weighed 308 pounds, a far cry from where he started.

"When I got to high school, I was 6'2, 180 pounds, and when I got interested in football, I obviously had to start putting some weight on so it took a lot of eating and a lot of work in the weight room to put the weight on," Lynch says.

During his college days, Lynch says that he drank a gallon of milk a day and ate just about anything throughout out the day.

"It really was pretty much a nonstop process of getting as many calories into my body as I could," he says.

Lynch sustained a knee injury that ended his career in 2003. The injury, and the nine surgeries to correct it that followed, were a wake-up call. Lynch now weighs 240 pounds, a weight he's been able to sustain thanks to a structured diet and workout routine.

"For me it was my knee injury where I realized I wasn't indestructible anymore and that I was susceptible to injury and I was susceptible to the same health problems as everyone else," Lynch says. "It sounds strange but it took the knee injury and it took my football career ending to realize that."

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