STILLWATER – Christian Littlehead misses the Muchacos and the burritos. Oh, and the double quarter pounders, no onion. And the fries.
But what he really misses is the soda. Not diet soda, the real thing. And lots of it.
“Everybody loves to drink pop,” said the Oklahoma State defensive tackle.
What Littlehead doesn't miss is the 60-some pounds he's shed in little over a year on campus, drastically altering his body and his future with the Cowboys.
“It feels good,” said Littlehead. “I mean, from last year, the transition from all that weight loss to now, I feel great. I feel big. I feel better. I feel thicker. I feel more agile on my feet and my hips feel looser.
So good, Littlehead will make his second career start Saturday against Kansas State, a game that would seem to fit his run-stuffing skills with the Wildcats committed to a rush-heavy offense.
But it wasn't at all good last August when Littlehead reported as a freshman, clearly overweight and out of shape, weighing in at 365 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said he never thought Littlehead would play; wondered even if he should play, out of concern for his health.
But OSU coaches didn't give up on the big tackle, instead turning him over to strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass as a project of sorts.
The project continues, yet worry about Littlehead has shifted to wonder, with him hovering steadily around 305 pounds and gaining traction as a dependable contributor along OSU's defensive front.
Saturday's start, which will be his first since the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, was earned with a strong performance last week against Baylor.
“Christian's really improved and gotten better,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. “It's just a light-year's difference from a year ago. He's so much more mobile and athletic now than he was then.”
A Broken Arrow native who starred at Sequoyah High School, Littlehead's struggles began when he scrambled after his senior year to get his academics in order. A late qualifier, he missed summer workouts in Stillwater.
“All he did was sit home and eat and gain weight,” Young said.
Once he did arrive, Littlehead realized he was in trouble.
“I knew I was out of shape,” he said. “I knew I had to get to where I needed to be if I wanted to play here. I knew I had to lose a lot of weight. And that's why I worked so hard to get where I am.”
First, Glass focused on teaching Littlehead better eating habits.
“What to eat and what not to eat,” Glass said. “When to eat and when not to eat.”
“The other thing was just his work capacity was not at a level it needed to be to play at this level. So we had to work on that as well.”
Complicating matters, Glass said, was balancing a drastic weight reduction with Littlehead's efforts to gain strength.
Through it all, the player was committed.
He gave up the fast food lanes and the soda pop – yes, the soda pop. Now when he dines at OSU's training table, he makes smart choices.
“I eat the salads,” Littlehead said. “Sometimes they have fish and grilled vegetables and I'll eat that. And I may just eat chicken and vegetables. That and water.”
And Littlehead realizes the payoff.
“Oh, I feel great,” he said, “better than I have before in my life.”
There's still work to be done. While the Cowboys like him at 305 pounds, the push now is to improve his strength, particularly in his lower body, and redefine his body overall.
“He's not the finished product yet that we're hoping to get to,” Glass said, “but he's made tremendous strides in a short amount of time. He's been very diligent.
“It's been very satisfying. He's just such a super young man.”
Littlehead's commitment has earned the respect of his teammates, too.
They, too, wondered what they were getting when he first joined the team. Not anymore.
“He's dropped, what, about a half-person?” said senior defensive end Jamie Blatnick. “He's a big guy, but he can run. He worked hard and he continues to work hard, eating salads all the time. We always tease him, ‘You want some of this? We've got some steaks over here.'
“He's determined. He wants to do good and we can see that and it just raises our confidence in him.”
Littlehead's confidence is soaring, too.
He even likes what he sees in the mirror.
“My arms are starting to get a little cut,” he said. “My stomach, I don't have as much of a gut anymore, I'm getting a flat stomach. Everything's starting to pay off, working with coach Glass.
“But I knew that I could work through it and get through it. I wasn't planning on coming up here and just staying in the shadows. I want to play.”