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Jaguars nutritionist convinces Jalen Ramsey he needs more than Cheetos and fries

Jaguars long-snapper Carson Tinker jokes around with team nutritionist Mindy Black during lunch at the team's facility. Mike DiRocco/ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jalen Ramsey learned a valuable lesson last month, one that will help him throughout his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Mindy Black is always watching. Always.

The rookie cornerback found that out after he tweeted a photo of what he was eating for dinner one night in early July. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a nutritional powerhouse: Vienna sausages covered in hot sauce, a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a box of Mike and Ike and a 32-ounce Powerade.

The tweet got 1,938 likes but one important dislike -- from Black, the Jaguars’ director of performance nutrition.

"I try really hard not to be the food police because I really do think they can fit everything in [their diet in] moderation," Black said. "But I did give him a hard time because at the time he was doing that he was also getting meals delivered to his house. I’m like, ‘You have healthy meals in your refrigerator!’ And he swore to me that was his cheat meal."

Black might not be the food police, but she is like Big Brother. And she has to be if she’s going to do her job correctly. Black is tasked with designing the Jaguars' team meals, coming up with personal nutrition plans for each player and helping each understand the importance of proper nutrition: how it can help the players perform better on the field, recover more quickly and even help extend their careers.

Doing that for 90 players during training camp is difficult, but it’s especially rough with the rookies. They are always Black's toughest cases because most of them show up having gotten by on the typical college diet of fast food, pizza and junk food.

Black’s job is to convince them that proper nutrition is as much a part of their job as a professional football player as practice and meetings. That’s why she spends time during the Jaguars' rookie immersion program going over the team’s nutrition services. She also holds a cooking class for the rookies and meets with each player one-on-one to come up with an individual nutrition plan. She’ll go shopping with them to teach them to read food labels. She’ll also set up a meal-delivery service.

Black doesn’t want players to exclude anything from their diet. She wants them to eat healthy 90 percent of the time and eat what they want the other 10 percent. That’s what sold Ramsey -- whom Black said has been her toughest case in her three seasons with the Jaguars -- on eating better.

"Everybody saw the meal I was eating on Twitter," Ramsey said. "It wasn’t my real dinner, granted, but I still eat Vienna sausages and hot Cheetos as snacks sometimes. Also, my favorite food in the whole world is french fries. If there was only one thing I could eat for the rest of my life, I’d pick french fries.

"That was the thing with her for a while. I was like, ‘Mindy, I understand where you’re coming from with the health stuff, but I’m just going to be honest with you. If I eat too healthy I’m going to go get French fries every day, so we’ve got to have some type of balance where I’m throwing them in there, so I don’t have to binge on them one day.’"

The players interviewed for this story all said Black has helped them and that they’re grateful she’s not overbearing when it comes to nutrition and checking out what they eat.

But some did admit to being afraid of the 5-foot-7 Black.

Such as 6-foot-3, 317-pound guard A.J. Cann. He loves pasta, and when the Jaguars serve it, the second-year player wants to load up a huge plateful ... but he doesn’t.

"I’m like, ‘How much can I get?' and she’s like, ‘Not a lot,’" Cann said. "It was the tiniest scoop ever. So I’m looking at her. She like walks away, but I’m like, I want to take an extra scoop so bad, but she’s looking, so I said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to take the extra scoop.’

"I wanted to so bad, man."

Cann said Black always seems to know when somebody’s trying to get away with something even if she’s not close to the food, but Black said the players don’t realize they’re tipping her off.

"Their faces give away everything," Black said. "I don’t have to necessarily look at their plate. They’ll just give a look like, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble’ or ‘I’m busted,’ and that’s when I know to walk over and kind of figure out what’s going on on that plate."

Black says most teams can be broken down into thirds when it comes to nutrition. One third of the players eat healthily. Another group wants to eat better but doesn’t fully know how and is eager for help. That’s the group with which Black spends most of her time.

The final group's members eat what they please and don’t want to alter their diets -- or if they do, it will only be minimally. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is one of these.

"Hey, I spent 29 years working on this body," the 6-foot-2, 309-pound Marks said. "You ain’t going to change it."

However, Marks did admit that Black got him to make one positive change: He no longer drinks Mountain Dew in the morning.

Even small changes matter, Black said.

"[I'm trying to] teach them that I’m not the food police, that I’m out there to help them, not hurt them, and get them going the right way," she said. "They’re basically getting to where they are genetically, so we have to prove to them that we can [help them] be that much better."

Without Vienna sausages.