Thus, that piled-high plate…or three…that McCardell brings to the training table at the end of another campus day. "Gotta pack it down, pack it down!" he grins, enjoying the advantage he has over many teammates under summer orders to trim it down, trim it down. Not that McCardell flaunts his freedom, exactly, but he certainly prefers working from this side of the scales.
"Yeah, for all the guys that have to lose weight it's pretty much opposite for the guys who have to gain it. We hate to eat as much as we do and the big guys hate to give up food!" Well, OK, maybe McCardell doesn't really hate the requirement to indulge in all those carbohydrates.
Especially because he truly is bulking-up for the demands of his d-end duty. Signed at 220 pounds out of Beaumont, Texas in 2008 he is now in the mid-240s depending on what time of the day it is. Not only how far he is between lunch and dinner, either, but on how many calories were burned over the course of an afternoon workout. And, how much got sweated-out in the process. Which is why McCardell appears to have a water bottle glued to one hand this summer.
Take last Thursday, for example, where he lost three pounds in just a couple of vigorous hours and had to get back up to 246 at the end of the day. Which probably meant picking up one more plate at supper. Overall his goal is to be at 250 pounds reporting for August camp next week.
"I'm not too far away. But these are the hard pounds coming up now. And like this afternoon we have a run and I'm going to lose so much weight from that run. So the key is to hydrate all day, from the time you wake up to when you go to sleep. That's the key to gaining weight."
And keeping it, too. That 250-target is not just a figure pulled out of the air, because after a solid spring session McCardell is positioning himself for a spot in the defensive end rotation this fall. Every extra ounce of muscle placed on his 6-5 frame improves chances of contributing as a redshirt freshman.
"Oh, the weight will help tremendously. Because I already have the speed, but any little touch might throw me off-balance. So this weight will keep me on track, I won't be able to be pushed around, I'll be able to play with the 300-pound tackles. At least for a little bit!" Rather, for just long enough to shed initial contact and go about his business. "Getting to the quarterback!" he proclaims.
That is precisely what McCardell was recruited out of West Brook High School to do, put pressure on passers coming off one end of the line. (For the record he prefers left end, right-hand down.) Not that he isn't being prepped for the equally-important role of run-stopping, of course. Still McCardell has a knack for the more glamorous aspect of playing defense, so much so that during his redshirting-rookie season the coaching staff that inked him openly talked of moving the lanky kid to outside linebacker. McCardell says now he would've been willing to give it a try.
"Coach tried me there a few weeks in practice, but he told me I'm a natural pass-rusher," he notes. Besides which, "With linebacking comes a lot of extra technique you have to learn, extra knowledge of the game, you have to know what everybody is doing at all times. Where at defensive line really all you have to do is worry about your gap, the quarterback, and don't let anything get outside of you."
Maybe a bit more complicated than that, but the concept is clear enough. Plus by staying in a front-four spot McCardell is free to pack on those pounds, which fortunately is adding more muscle. "To gain the weight helps tremendously, with Coach (Matt) Balis and with the weight I'm getting way stronger. My bench max went up like fifty pounds in four weeks!" More impressive is gaining 90 pounds on his squat. And to think he has another three full years to upgrade these things… "I can't wait to see!" he says.
For that matter McCardell is impatient for camp and his chance to compete. Climbing the depth chart won't be as simple as putting on pounds and this Dog understands the situation. "I'm trying to get second string right now. We've got so many different ends, like seven ends right now, so anywhere second string will be good. And I have four years to get that starting position!"
While #2 team status may not seem a lofty ambition, it has to be re-noted that Coach David Turner and coordinator Carl Torbush do have a longer list of defensive ends to choose from…and every one of them is an underclassman. In fact McCardell is one of four redshirted ends, which is great for developing a depth chart but challenging to members of the quartet who want to get in the game now. The good news is, spring showed this staff wants to have several quality combinations ready to play in 2009.
"With all the personnel we have, different body types, different weights, speeds, they can just call any play they really want to out of all the schemes and we can run it with the depth we have," says McCardell. And, he adds, "Coach is definitely doing some new pass-rush plays in there with the tackles combining with us. Like, they might go first and we go behind them; or we might go first and they come behind us. Coach comes up with all kinds of stuff."
Stuff that means State can play it big up-front, play for speed, or blends of both. Naturally McCardell is in the ‘speed' side of the equation, and gaining weight has done nothing to slow him down. Just the opposite, in fact, based on his latest 40-yard clockings. "I'm 4.4-lows, but I'm trying to get to a 4.3. I know I can get a 4.3." How is speeding-up possible when bulking-up? "Because we're losing body fat but gaining (muscle)," he explains. "And that's a good thing."
A very, very good thing once McCardell learns the finer points of putting moves-and-muscle to the best use. Turner did some intense teaching in spring ball, and now in unsupervised summer sessions McCardell and fellow young linemen are applying those lessons.
"Working on technique, technique, technique, every day. Just to help me on the field in practice so when I get into the game it will come easy to me, naturally." No, he's still not planning on battling 300-pound blockers to a draw every snap; footwork and technique will provide the advantage McCardell needs in using his talents. Ditto for others of his body type, like veteran Sean Ferguson and redshirt Trevor Stigers.
"With us, they like to use our speed. And we're kind of slim so we might fit in the gap easier than say a big guy. But you still have to be strong to handle the contact, that's where the weight is coming at." McCardell's ultimate goal is to be playing between 265-270 pounds, which will require at least another year's work.
"People won't recognize me! But Coach Balis says with my body type I could put on weight and you wouldn't be able to see it." Perhaps not. But the results on the field should be easy enough to notice as McCardell continues working the afternoon weights. Oh, and the dinner-time plates.