Adam Haayer looked at "freshman-15" and laughed.
Entering college, every first-year student — male or female — is fully aware of the notion that many freshmen put on 15 pounds in their first year of college. For the first time in their lives, they're living in a home away from home, their entire lifestyle and eating habits change. The result is often visible, considering the addition of an extra chin and a spare tire.
Haayer didn't make that long of a trip to college. He went to high school in Forest Lake, Minn. The University of Minnesota campus wasn't even an hour away. But his lifestyle had undergone a total metamorphosis. He was playing for a major Division I college football team. They fed him well. They worked him well. For those reasons, he shattered the freshman-15 rule before midterms.
Lucky for him, most of the added weight was muscle, not fat.
"Actually, I was one of those guys who had trouble putting on weight," Haayer said. "Some offensive linemen can put on 20 pounds in a weekend. When I got to school, making the change to the college lifestyle, I put on 40 pounds real quick. From then on, it was about 10 pounds a year."
Haayer graduated from Forest Lake standing 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing a wiry 225 pounds. He piled up the pounds as quick as he piled up class credits and found the 300-pound mark his senior season.
"I bulked up a ton," Haayer said. "I had friends who would go to my parents' house with me, and my mom still has the pictures year by year of me in school. Friends would come over and say, ‘Gosh, Haayer, we didn't know you had a brother.' I tell them that's me. I put on 85 or 90 pounds in college."
Next to his wife, Summer, and his two boys, Austin, 4, and Afton, 9 months, the weight was the biggest addition of his life.
Without the increased size Haayer would have been watching NFL games, not playing them. He probably would be teaching in a classroom right now, then coaching after school, if it weren't for the enormous transformation he underwent during his years with the Gophers.
Surprisingly, playing professional football for a career was Haayer's second choice. He had his sights set on the hardcourt, not the gridiron. At 6-6, Haayer stood out on the basketball court in most Twin Cities Suburban Conference games. So much that he waited for Division I basketball scholarships to be sent his way.
"I always wanted to be a basketball player," he said. "I loved basketball. Me and my dad always went out to the driveway and shot hoops. That's what I wanted to be."
For Haayer, it was difficult to separate desire from reality. Even though he had success in high school basketball, that didn't necessarily guarantee he'd be competitive in Division I college basketball, his goal.
"I didn't really figure it out until my senior year in high school how many 6-6 white guys were out there," Haayer said. "I thought being one of the bigger and more athletic guys in the school would help, but I had no idea. The Division I basketball scholarships weren't coming in, but the football scholarships were. I still thought I had a good shot at Division I basketball.
Then his high school football coach slapped him with a cold dose of reality. "He told me to go up to a Gophers basketball game and sit in the front row and watch how fast they go up and down the court," Haayer recalled. "They're fast, they fly up and down the court."
So Haayer came to his senses.
"Once a football scholarship rolled in from the ‘U' I took it," he said.
Just the first of a series of career adjustments for Haayer.
Haayer was recruited as a tight end by then-Gophers head coach Jim Wacker, whose offense was wide-open and sometimes included five-tight end sets. That meant ample playing time for Haayer.
That all changed the moment Wacker was let go. The U of M brought in Glen Mason, and the five-tight end sets were sent packing with Wacker. Mason's offense used two basic tight ends, meaning Haayer went back to the corner of the line and theoretically would see his playing time wane.
"Wacker brought me in for a reason: They used five-tight end sets," Haayer said. "That's why it was such a great fit for me. Then Mason came in and things changed."
After two years, the coaching staff gave Haayer a choice: He could play sparingly at tight end or he could start as an offensive lineman.
"They needed a left tackle, so I stepped in and grew into that position," Haayer said.
He grew into that position figuratively and literally. Remember, this is a college player that went from 225 to 300 pounds.
When Haayer had committed to Wacker and the Gophers, the program was annually perched near the bottom of the Big Ten Conference. Even after signing with the Gophers, Haayer heard and read constant criticism. But critics' incessant grumblings made the taste of success they'd eventually experience that much sweeter.
"You'd get those remarks that they haven't won anything," Haayer recalled hearing after he committed to the ‘U' out of high school. "I think they said in one of the papers that we were the worst recruiting class in the history of the U of M. Three years later we had turned it around, went 8-3 and were playing in a bowl game. A year later we played in another bowl game.
"To the credit of the guys I went to college with, we did turn it around, and it was a fun thing to do. It's more special to go from a loser to a winner."
During his senior year of 2001, the Tennessee Titans drafted Haayer in the sixth round. He played in training camp but injured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and was placed on injured reserve before the season had begun, meaning he would miss his entire rookie season.
Haayer returned to the Titans this summer, then was waived in August. Lacking depth at left tackle, the Vikings claimed him off waivers on Aug. 27. Just two weeks later — because of yet more injuries to the Vikings offensive line — Haayer's number was called to protect quarterback Daunte Culpepper's blind side against Buffalo.
Haayer's performance drew mixed reviews. "You gotta get on the field sometime. Better sooner than later," he said. "The only real big step for me was I had never been in the huddle with Daunte, I had never been at game pace with these guys. I had only been playing here for two weeks at the time, but I think I did alright. It was fun to get out there."
Returning to Minnesota is a dream for Haayer.
Naturally, it was a homecoming. Growing up in Forest Lake, Haayer had always been a Vikings fan. Every Sunday he can remember, the entire Haayer family would huddle around the TV and watch their purple-clad warriors do battle.
"I remember Rick Fenney, Al Noga, Chris Doleman, the Scott Studwells, players like that," Haayer said. "That's who I grew up watching."
Now he is wearing the same uniform, living in the same state he has almost all his life.
Being a true Minnesotan, Haayer realizes the hills of Tennessee don't compare to the lakes of Minnesota.
"I'm so happy to be back in Minnesota because I'm a huge snowmobiler," he said. "I love winter. I love to ice fish; I love outdoor stuff. I hope we get a ton of snow this year, so I can go out and hit the trails.
"I'm excited to be back here. It's so good to be home."
Favorite actor: Mel Gibson
Favorite actress: Jennifer Anistan
Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite TV show: Friends
Current vehicle: Toyota Sequoia
Favorite vehicle: H2
Toughest player I've ever faced: "The Freak," Jevon Kearse
If I weren't playing football: I'd be teaching and coaching.
Getting To Know: Tackle Adam Haayer
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