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A Sizable Problem : USC’s Matt Koart Says He Grew Up Fast; Gaining Weight Was Another Story

Times Staff Writer

In our fitness-conscious society it is both healthful and fashionable to be slim. But how about people who want to gain weight and can’t?

Matt Koart, a senior USC defensive tackle, once had this problem, and he went to extreme measures to gain a few pounds.

Koart came to USC as a freshman in 1981 weighing 217 pounds. That’s a reasonable weight for a fullback, but not a defensive tackle.

“I was trying to fend off linemen like Roy Foster and Bruce Matthews (both All-Americans) in practice and I was getting killed,” Koart recalled. Koart realized he had to gain more weight to become competitive. So he decided to supplement his diet.

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“I used to stuff myself so bad,” he said. “I’d take a weight-gaining powder, put two bananas in it, grind it up and then shove it down my throat--2,000 calories. And that was after I ate.

“If I gained four pounds in a month, I was happy. Now my body is maturing and my metabolism is slowing down and I can eat what I want. I don’t have to be eating all the time.”

Koart weighs 260 pounds and is a mainstay of USC’s experienced defensive line that also includes nose guard Tony Colorito and tackle Brent Moore.

An admitted over-achiever, Koart has been a hard-luck athlete. A severely sprained ankle forced him to miss four games and parts of others as a sophomore in 1983. Last year, his season ended in the fourth game against Washington State when he suffered torn ligaments in his left knee.

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Koart has been a survivor since his redshirt freshman year in 1981.

“When you’re small, you learn to play with less physical gifts,” he said. “Then, when you get bigger, it’s easier because you didn’t get lazy previously with your technique and style.”

But there’s nothing easy about Koart’s practice routine. Day in and day out, he has to go up against two of the best, if not the biggest, offensive linemen in the country.

“I play on the inside shoulder of James FitzPatrick, so I get Fitz and Jeff Bregel on every play.” Koart said. “When I go into a game, it’s not the same battle.”

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FitzPatrick stands 6 feet 8 inches and weighs 285 pounds. Briegel is 6-4 and 280.

“I don’t see a guard-tackle combination like that in a game,” Koart said. “Fitz is so big that it is impossible to see around him. And no one comes at me as hard in games as Bregel does in practice.”

Because of his injury, Koart hasn’t enjoyed the full measure of success, such as the conference championship season of 1984.

But he recalls the 1983 season when USC was 4-6-1, and he doesn’t want to relive that year.

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“The cupboard was bare in 1983,” Koart said. “That was the year of (the) Ken Ruettgers recruiting class, and, although he was a great offensive tackle, it wasn’t a very good class, especially for linemen. I know I was a big risk. I was recruited in the Pac-10, but other schools weren’t beating down my door to recruit me.”

Koart is 21 and mature for his age. He said he had to grow up in a hurry. His father, Bill Koart, a former Triple-A baseball player, died when he was 12.

“My family, my mother and my sister came closer together after my dad died, but there were no restrictions on me after I was 12,” Koart said. “There was a lot of responsibility shoved on my mother, and she had her own problems. She did the best she could but she couldn’t always know if I was doing the right thing all the time.”

Koart said that he was partying when he was in the eighth and ninth grades, adding that when he got to high school, Dos Pueblos in Goleta, it wasn’t a big deal to go out on the town.

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“I grew up early,” he said. “Coming to college was no big deal. I already had the responsibility of being on my own for some time.”

Koart has already made some all-star teams, the Pacific 10 and District 8 All-Academic teams. He carries an A-minus average in the business school and is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the national business honorary society. Only students in the top 10% of their class are so honored.

Koart said he wasn’t that dedicated a student in high school but has put pressure on himself to succeed in college.

“I don’t like the stereotype of the dumb jock and I wanted to bring some honor to the university,” he said.

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Koart has worked for a Glendale law firm the past two summers.

“I’ve done some light legal research and delivered subpoenas and helped out in any way I could,” he said. “If don’t play pro football, I want to go to law school.

“I’m not a fantastic athlete, but I’m not bad, either. I’m an over-achiever and probably play better than I should, given my proven speed and things. Still, my physical gifts are better than they were when I came in.”

“As for pro football, I don’t have any idea if I’ll be able to play. I really don’t know how good I am because I have yet to play an entire season.”

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Koart seems comfortable about his situation now, though, and why shouldn’t he be? He can eat what he wants, when he wants, and relief is no longer a swallow away.


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