Leaner and stronger, Netter anchors 'Cats line

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern offensive line coach Adam Cushing recognizes that Al Netter still has "a million miles to go" in his development, but the sophomore left tackle has physical tools to get there.

"He has the pro body," Cushing said. "He's got the ability, no doubt, with the way he's built."

Molding that body has been the key for Netter, who started all 13 games last fall as a redshirt freshman and bookends a Wildcats line that returns four starters.

He was tall and lean in high school, topping out no more than 250 pounds. Good enough for the Cardinal Newman Cardinals, but not Northwestern. As soon as Netter arrived on campus, he was asked to gain weight.

"We asked him to do it the right way," Cushing said, "but you naturally have to have a spike in body fat to do it. Now he's gotten back to the lean weight and muscle mass."

Netter checks in this spring at 6-foot-6 and 295, barely heavier than where he finished last season. But his body fat has dropped and both his strength and speed have improved.

He's back to being a lean left tackle, yet big enough to stop Big Ten pass-rushers.

"A big goal for me was to cut down on some of the bad fat and turn it into good fat," Netter said. "I'm not the kind of the lineman who's 320 pounds. I'm more lean and I go with my athleticism. You want to keep the athleticism."

Netter spent the winter months eating six meals a day. He ingested sandwiches before and after meals, and "made sure I'd eat a big meal after dinner."

If we were all so lucky.

His diet was heavy on milk, other dairy, eggs and tuna -- "good protein weight," he explained.

"He's done an unbelievable job with his diet," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's taking it to heart. It's like anything. You can give a guy a great weightlifting program. If he doesn't do it as hard as he can, he's not going to get stronger. Same thing with our diet plan.

"Al falls in line with the big guys here who have had success -- John Gill, Barry Cofield, Luis Castillo -- who took to heart what the nutritionist said and had an unbelievable amount of response to it."

Castillo and Cofield went on to earn starting jobs at defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers and New York Giants. Gill, another defensive tackle, could get picked up in this weekend's draft.

It's pretty good company for Netter, who hopes to take another step toward the next level this fall.

"My confidence is just way up this year," he said. "You know the system better. You know you can go and play football again, whereas last year you're just holding on, going through it and learning as you go. I feel like I'm through all that now. I'm ready to keep getting better."