It was summer, and Shahbaz Ahmed made sure to put down a high-calorie, high-protein snack before bedtime each night.
His palate, Ahmed said, included options like Muscle Milk milkshakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In Week 10 of the college football season, his post-practice menu typically consists of a double-helping of the meal served on that day, oftentimes turkey sandwiches, along with a protein shake or a hearty glass of chocolate milk.
The endgame has been clear, but not easy – add and maintain the weight necessary for a starting NCAA Division I offensive lineman.
Since last spring, Ahmed said he has added about 25 pounds to his 6-foot-3-inch frame.
The junior played in 10 games, starting five, as a defensive end last season. He was set to enter his junior season with hopes of building on his 2013 game time, until Owls coach Matt Rhule approached him with a plan.
“He asked me to switch to the offensive line during spring ball,” Ahmed said. “It was kind of a shock.”
In 2013, Ahmed was listed at 255 pounds, hardly the weight of the average offensive lineman in the Division I game. Each of Ahmed’s starting partners on the line this season – junior Kyle Friend, redshirt-sophomore Brendan McGowan and sophomores Eric Lofton, Dion Dawkins – each were listed at 300 pounds or greater last year.
“At first I was like, ‘Man I’m a [defensive] lineman, I’m not going to switch over,’” Ahmed said. “But I went back home, I talked to my mom about it and she was just saying, ‘Sometimes you have to trust what the coaches tell you. You have to trust what he’s saying to you.’ Rhule knows what’s best. After I went home and I thought about it, I made a rational decision on it and ended up making a great decision.”
One year later as the team’s starting offensive guard, Ahmed has been coming into his own in the trenches as a 285-pounder.
“It was very hard,” he said. “When I was in the spring, I was about 260 [pounds]. It was one of those things where I was trying to lift weights, eat as much as I could, trying to get a thousand calories every meal. But it was eating a lot, lifting my butt off and working as hard as I could on it.
“And thank God I was able to put the weight on and everything,” Ahmed added. “But right now, I’m just trying to keep the weight since I put it on in such a short time.”
Ahmed has started in each game for a young offensive line this season that, heading into its schedule, was dubbed by the coaching staff as a work in progress.
“We have a high upside,” offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan said. “We just need to continue to work every day to get better and physically tougher.”
Ahmed’s first season as an offensive line starter has featured its share of high and low points.
The Owls are 4-3 overall with a pair of American Athletic Conference wins, already an improvement in comparison to their 2-10 (1-8 The American) result last year. The offensive line, though, is blocking for a Temple rushing unit that ranks No. 104 in Division I with 120.9 yards per game on the ground. Temple’s rushers combined for 32 yards on 21 carries in the team’s 34-14 loss to Central Florida this past Saturday.
Simultaneously, the offensive line has helped Temple to a 33rd-place tie in tackles for loss allowed with an average of 4.86.
“We’re getting closer every week,” Lofton said. “That’s one thing about offensive line. If you’re going to be great, you have to have chemistry. We try to meet by ourselves once every night because the closer we get off the field, the more we’re able to trust each other on the field.”
Plugged in as one of Wiesehan’s chosen starters, Ahmed said he’s making the most of his chance. For the local product of Lindenwold, New Jersey, a town roughly 20 minutes outside of Camden, the opportunity to start each game in front of his family at Lincoln Financial Field is one that has helped him feel at home.
“ It’s one of the biggest things [for me] that I’m very close to home,” Ahmed said. “My mom’s able to come to my games and being close to home, I love it.”
“The biggest part of coming here, number one, was a good education,” he added. “My mom was trying to drill that into my head. And being close to home, it’s nice to have my mom or just my family come to my games. It’s been really good.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @Andrew_Parent23