FOXBOROUGH - Vince Wilfork had a gut feeling.
The portly Patriots nose tackle isn't a voracious reader, but during a trip to
"Six-pack? I have a keg, that's how I'll put it," said the 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound Wilfork. "I have a keg and I'm proud of it."
Why not? Nose tackles are supposed to be rotund, acting as corpulent clogs at the line of scrimmage.
But, aided by the book, Wilfork has learned that sometimes less is more. The svelter lineman earned his first Pro Bowl berth Tuesday in his fourth pro season, selected as a starter for the AFC squad. He said he owes the honor to the diligent work of his weight-watching wife, Bianca.
"My wife, she deserves a lot of credit for this," said Wilfork, who also thanked his teammates, the organization, the fans, and even the media. "The only thing I do is go out on Sundays and play, but from a health standpoint, she really kicked it into gear with me this year. I could sit here and take all the credit, but I'm not going to do that."
Wilfork said his wife insisted he spend the offseason reducing his waistline. Inspired by the book, which she commandeered before he could read it, Bianca was conducting weigh-ins and demanding three workouts a day, starting at 5 a.m.
"[We] got down to Florida and she still was stuck on trying it, so I was like, 'OK, we'll give it a go,' " recalled Wilfork. "And within a week I was like, 'Man, this book is pretty good.' I started feeling the effect; I started looking different.
"She went from taking measurements to weighing me in. I was like, 'Man, I thought I got weighed in every Thursday during the season. This is the offseason.' But she really buckled down, and she was like, 'We're going to do it the right way.' And I was like, 'OK,' once I saw she wasn't playing."
Wilfork said his new diet calls for him to eat six times a day, but eat foods that help boost his metabolism.
Bianca didn't just want Wilfork, 26, to be a better football player. She wanted him to be around for their two children, D'Aundre and Destiny.
Wilfork's parents both died before the age of 50. His father, David, had diabetes and died at 48 in 2002. His mother, Barbara, died six months later from complications of a stroke. She was 46. Wilfork and his wife host an annual NFL draft party to raise funds for the Diabetes Research Institute.
"She looked at my health, my family, the past history of my family and everything, and she said, 'This offseason we are going to really cut down, and really work on your midsection.' And I was like, 'Midsection? I'm always going to have a stomach,' " said Wilfork.
"And she was like, 'I understand that, but it can be smaller.' I was mad when she said it, but at the same time I started looking back at my family history and diabetes, and it's a long list and it goes on and on. I think I really got it into my mind then."
Wilfork, who has been credited with 64 tackles and two sacks this season while anchoring New England's fourth-rated defense, said he was worried when he got to training camp that without his normal girth he wouldn't hold up against double teams, but he soon realized that with the weight distributed to other parts of his body he was just as strong, if not stronger, and quicker, too.
Wilfork has always been a great athlete. He still holds the Florida state high school record in the shot put, and if you listen to him tell it, he would have been an NFL running back or quarterback if he hadn't outgrown those positions.
Sounds apocryphal, but wide receiver C.J. Jones, a member of the Patriots' practice squad, played high school football with Wilfork at Santaluces High in Lantana. Jones said that Wilfork played running back, quarterback, kicker, and even kick returner.
He's more like a DB caught up in a fat man's body," said Jones. "He's got all the skills. I mean, he can throw the ball. He's a good athlete, a real good athlete."
Wilfork's athleticism helped him transition from being a penetrating tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme at the University of Miami to becoming one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL.
"Vince is a real good player," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week. "I think he does everything well. He's strong. He's physical. He's a tough guy to block in the running game, and he's an explosive guy in pass rush, and he has good quickness and plays with good leverage."
Wilfork's Pro Bowl selection should give him more leverage in pursuing a contract extension. His contract is up after the 2009 season, and he'll be looking to expand his bank account, which took a hit this season. Twice he has been fined by the NFL, $12,500 for a blow to the knee of Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman Sept. 23, and $5,000 for unnecessary roughness on Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten Oct. 14.
But such a weighty issue can wait. For now, Wilfork is focused on helping the Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins Sunday. When the offseason comes, it's back to work on his waistline.
"I know that overnight it's not going to happen. It's going to take time, and every year we're going to attack that," he said. "That's something that last year she started, and I'm pretty sure this year we're going to pick up where we left off. So, hopefully, you'll see a whole new Vince Wilfork again next year."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.