UCLA nose guard Atonio Mafi hopes his big push to lose weight helps Bruins’ push up front

UCLA defensive lineman Atonio Mafi (56) gets ready for a game against Colorado on Sept. 28, 2018 in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Every once in a while, Atonio Mafi still indulges in his favorite In-N-Out meal: a burger with four beef patties, animal-style fries with a mound of gooey cheese and a strawberry milkshake.

The hulking UCLA nose guard has learned to absorb the extra calories while shedding weight. His secret? Spending more time going in and out of the school’s workout facilities in the evenings.

“That’s when I come in and do extra work like cardio and stuff,” Mafi said Tuesday after the Bruins resumed spring practice following a two-week break.


It’s been a winning weight-loss recipe. After weighing 411 pounds the day he set foot on campus last summer, the sophomore has dropped 45 pounds overall and 14 pounds since the end of last season. At 6 feet 2 and 366 pounds, he remains 16 pounds short of his goal of 350 but said he feels like he can get there before the season.

Mafi said his progress has been easier than some might imagine. He weighs in every day, providing a strong incentive against binge eating. Most of his meals come from UCLA’s training table, limiting the expansion of his waistline.

“Everything I eat is pretty much good for me,” Mafi said. ”It’s just like, on the weekends, if I was eating out, that’s where I would stumble a little bit.”

There is one number Mafi would happily see tick upward: his number of sacks.

He recorded zero last season, part of UCLA’s passive pass rush that logged only 15 sacks in 12 games. Mafi said his more svelte physique could help with his acceleration into the backfield. He’s also improving his technique, knocking the hands of opposing linemen off him instead of just putting his head down and trying to run through them.

“I usually end up on my face if I do that,” Mafi said.

Mafi has been increasingly holding his own in head-to-head battles with Bruins senior center Boss Tagaloa, who has become a workout buddy with his fellow Polynesian teammate. Even though Tagaloa didn’t need to transform his body in the offseason, he nudged Mafi to complete extra evening workouts alongside him.

“Some days, I didn’t want to go up there,” Mafi said, referring to the practice facility, “but I see him going, so I’m like, oh, I gotta go too if he’s going to go.”

The teammates have a running bet over who gets the best of each other in practices, and it involves food. The winner gets treated to Panda Express at the student union.

“He’s probably up on me by like two [wins], maybe,” Mafi said. “I’ll just give that to age.”

If youth must be served, Mafi is learning, it’s the low-calorie version.

Making a run for it

Redshirt junior receiver Demetric Felton has spent part of practice sessions at running back to help alleviate a shortage of bodies at the position.

He said he’s hoping to fill both roles after adding 10 pounds over the offseason to help him better withstand the pounding that running backs take.

“I played running back in high school and so it just comes pretty easy to me,” said Felton, who now packs 190 pounds onto his 5-9 frame, “but I like it a lot.”

Felton had 20 catches but only five carries last season, down from 10 carries in 2017.

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Quarterback Chase Griffin threw passes for the first time in spring practice after recovering from a wrist injury. Griffin joined Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Austin Burton as the only three quarterbacks in practice, with walk-on Josiah Norwood apparently having moved to receiver. … Linebacker Keisean Lucier-South, the Bruins’ top returning pass rusher, did not appear to be at practice. … Linebacker Josh Woods, offensive lineman Mohamed Khalil, receivers Dymond Lee and Ethan Fernea and defensive backs Kenny Churchwell and William Nimmo wore yellow jerseys to signal they were recovering from injuries and were limited in their participation. Fernea wore a walking boot on his right foot. … The Bruins received a nonbinding commitment from Blake Kirshner, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound quarterback from Santa Clarita Christian School.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch