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Atonio Mafi draft diary: Sore body parts are ‘part of the deal’ training six days a week

Former UCLA lineman Atonio Mafi stretches during a workout in Pensacola Beach, Fla.
Former UCLA lineman Atonio Mafi stretches during a workout in Pensacola Beach, Fla.
(Courtesy of Exos Sports)
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As offensive lineman Atonio Mafi transitions from UCLA to the NFL, he is sharing his journey with Times staff writer Ben Bolch through a weekly diary leading up to the draft April 27. This week, Mafi discusses his training regimen.

Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it.

No matter how long I soak in the cold tub or use the foam roller, my lower back and hamstrings are going to be stiff. That’s just part of the deal. I’m training six days a week for the NFL draft. Body parts are going to be sore.

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi is sharing his journey to the NFL draft through a weekly diary leading up the event April 27.

Feb. 1, 2023

The important thing is managing the discomfort and making sure I can keep training without tearing a muscle. That’s why I use the roller on my body when I get back to my room at the resort where I’m staying in Pensacola Beach, Fla. The worst thing that could happen is I forget to use the roller and wake up with cramps.

All this running is hard. We did a lot of conditioning work at UCLA but never ran the 40-yard dash or did much sprinting. At the Exos facility, we’re not just running but also focusing on so many different aspects of it — getting off to the quickest start, maintaining form at top speed and finishing strong.

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As an offensive lineman, my time in the 40 isn’t as important as the split for the first 10 yards, which shows how fast you can drive off the line and get to your top speed in space.

Atonio Mafi stretches during a pre-NFL draft workout in Florida.
(Courtesy of Exos Sports)

Running is just a small part of my training. Days start at around 6 a.m. with a few quiet moments in bed. As I lay there, I make sure I’m in the right headspace. I think about how this is another day closer to the draft, so I need to make sure I’m getting better.

By 7, I’m at the facility grabbing breakfast — I got my first taste of grits, which don’t have much taste unless you drown them in butter and salt — and getting ready to get on the field. We start with the emphasis of the day, like maintaining form during the second half of the 40-yard dash.

Around 9:30, we switch to our offensive line work with Willie Anderson, the former Cincinnati Bengals left tackle. He’s been awesome. He shows us proper technique and form with hand placement and getting underneath guys for leverage. I love how he treats us as peers as opposed to talking to us as college kids.

There’s no need to rehash what feels like another lost UCLA football season. Instead, let’s examine how Chip Kelly and the Bruins can improve the program.

Dec. 31, 2022

I’m working out with a group of seven offensive linemen, most from the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences. My roommate, former Penn State center Juice Scruggs, teases me about never having seen snow, much less playing in it. He cracked up when I mentioned our coldest game being at Stanford when it was like 50 degrees. They tried to keep us warm that day by giving us chicken soup on the sideline.

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Juice gave me a tip for when I finally face one of those blizzards in New England or Green Pay. Are you ready? One word: Vaseline. Rubbing it all over the exposed parts of your body is supposed to help you retain heat. Sounds weird, I know, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Staying warm is never a problem in our training. I’m ready for a break by the time we get lunch around 11. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about what I eat now that my weight isn’t the issue it was at UCLA when I shed more than 70 pounds. I’m 335 now, pretty much at my target weight after having dropped five pounds since the Sun Bowl in late December.

Former UCLA lineman Atonio Mafi runs during a pre-NFL draft workout in Florida.
(Courtesy of Exos Sports)

Knowing that I’m going to play guard or center at the next level, I don’t want to get any lower than 330. Everything we eat — proteins, carbs and fruits — is portioned by the servers, eliminating the possibility that I overdo it. The food is good, but it can’t compare to what we had at the Wasserman Center on campus. Man, I miss the scallops with lemon butter and cheese.

After lunch, we hit our lift. I can squat 616 pounds, dead lift 550 and bench press a few reps of 405. Those numbers are similar to what everyone else is doing. We encourage each other but it’s also competitive. If someone else throws on an extra plate, it pushes me to do the same.

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi is sharing his journey to the NFL draft through a weekly diary leading up the event April 27.

Feb. 8, 2023

The day ends with cold tub and sauna treatment. It’s all about recovery, trying to make sure we can get our bodies right for the next day. We also get massages on Thursdays and Saturdays.

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Sundays are chill. I’ll binge watch “NCIS” — I’ve made it through 12 seasons — or take a leisurely walk around the nearby mall to go clothes shopping. The resort we stay at is nice, so I also like hitting the hot tub.

You’ve got to relax whenever you can. Another day of sore muscles is never far away.

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