The longest-tenured guard in the NFC West is an Eagle Scout and a former finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
He owns 72 regular-season starts and four more in the playoffs, including one in a Super Bowl. His college teammates once voted him most inspirational player.
Incorporating vegan principles into his diet has indeed helped Lutui reach his playing weight (340 pounds) months earlier than usual. But he has not stopped eating animal products entirely. Lutui, in consultation with a nutritionist, still eats fish and chicken to maximize his protein intake. Protein shakes after workouts are also allowed.
Red meats and dairy products are on the do-not-eat list.
"A lot of people wouldn’t call it vegan, but as the vegan concept goes, it is something I eat pretty much vegan throughout the week," Lutui said over the phone Tuesday."I've been at this for four months, and so I've lost tremendous weight."
Breakfasts are heavy on fruit. Giant salads loaded up with beans, tomatoes and avocado often carry meals later in the day. Brown rice is another staple.
Lutui was born in Tonga, where size matters ("Sometimes, I just think my background being Tongan, I’m a thick person," he said). Lutui said he weighed 396 pounds upon reporting to USC, where his line coach, Tim Davis, encouraged personal growth with a saying Lutui ate up: "Mass moves ass." Lutui sometimes played at 370 pounds in college, dropping into the 330s for the scouting combine.
Now, at age 29, NFL teams are convinced Lutui must cut weight to remain productive.
"It has always been a part of me to play big," Lutui said. "I had to humble myself to see what coaches are seeing out there."
Lutui started four-plus seasons for Arizona before becoming a free agent one year ago. He declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding his near-signing with Cincinnati last offseason.
"There has been some stuff, I'd really rather not say," he said.
The Bengals reportedly backed out of the deal over weight concerns. Lutui returned to the Cardinals on a one-year deal as teams and players scrambled following the lockout. Arizona had also grown weary of the constant weight battles. The team signed former San Francisco 49ers guard Adam Snyder this offseason.
"My strength on the field speaks for itself, but being born 13 pounds, coming from an ancestry of big men, it is definitely -- I have changed my whole life," Lutui said. "I come from the land of kings that eat like kings. The first king of Tonga was a 7-footer."
King George Tupou I attended no scouting combines in his day, making it tough to verify his measurables. But cultural and physiological factors are certainly at play with Lutui. He carries 340 pounds the way another lineman might carry 300 or 315.
"My best game weight is 340 and that is still big for a lineman, but for a Tongan, it’s pretty small," Lutui said. "You check out my other brothers on the field, Haloti Ngata and these guys. They are playing at 350-plus and they’re pretty good."
Lutui expects to compete at right guard, the position he played for Arizona. That is where the Seahawks' John Moffitt started before suffering a knee injury last season. Seattle would seem to have a more clearly defined opening at left guard after releasing 2011 starter Robert Gallery. But it's early. Lutui still must re-establish himself after the first zero-start season of his career.
Wherever he winds up on the line, Lutui figures to be in a better place. Getting back together with Pete Carroll, his old college coach, has made for a comfortable transition.
"He is the only coach in the NFL who really knows who Deuce Lutui is," Lutui said. "I came at him at 396 (in college), but he has really honored me for my strengths and I’m going to honor him by playing at a weight that is under the radar.
"I am stepping into my prime. I haven't even yet scratched he surface of that. I am so optimistic about this year as far as my training has been. I can’t wait to prove to this organization who I am and who they are getting."