With the strict diet of a body builder, Matt Patchan attacks nutrition with the same intensity he reserves for a defensive end. The stack of books he has read about nutrition over the past few years would tower over his 6-6, 287-pound frame. You could call Patchan an expert in nutrition and if you look at his body, which has been transformed from scarecrow skinny into one that shows off lots of lean muscle, it’s easy to tell that all the education has paid off.
In the most important summer of his football life, Patchan has transformed himself from the 240-pounder that lined up at defensive tackle against Kentucky last year into the 287-pounder that could be Florida’s starter at left tackle on the offensive side of the ball when the Gators open their season with Charleston Southern on September 5.
It all began with a challenge from Florida’s strength and conditioning coach, Mickey Marotti, but turning a challenge into solid weight gain wouldn’t have been possible without help from a teammate who has no problems whatsoever with gaining weight.
“I hung out with Carl Johnson,” Patchan said sarcastically. “That’ll do it for sure.”
Johnson, who is listed at 340 but is probably closer to 350, introduced Patchan to a little known Gainesville restaurant that became his Mecca. If the restaurant gave out frequent eater cards, these guys would be off the charts in terms of points.
“He opened my eyes to this place called Peach Valley,” Patchan said. “It has the best pancakes in Gainesville. They’re just huge. Coach Mick and Coach (Steve) Addazio are always on me. Coach Mick is always on me to eat pancakes. He talks so much s&*% about how much more pancakes his daughter can eat than me. I try to prove him wrong every morning at breakfast by eating three or four pancakes at break. Big ones though.”
Luckily for Peach Valley, they made Patchan’s restaurant cut. He’s rather particular about where he will eat. There aren’t that many Gainesville restaurants where he will dine.
“I’m very, very strict on what I eat,” Patchan said. “I feel like that plays a major role in my conditioning level and my athleticism.”
Taking a smarter approach to nutrition was handed down to Patchan by his dad, Matt Patchan Sr., a former University of Miami offensive lineman who spent 1984-87 in the trenches for the Hurricanes, coached then by Jimmy Johnson. Patchan Sr. spent a short time in the NFL but he’s been a full-time coach in everything from football to healthy living to his son.
“My dad is very health conscious,” Patchan said. “Growing up, I always ate organic. I’ve read a ton of books and I have a fair knowledge of nutrition. I feel like if I take care of my body, my body will take care of me. A lot of times when we’re conditioning or it’s a tough day, I feel like the conditioning level that I have is an added bonus. That’s a lot due to the way I eat.”
Patchan was taught to be particular about what he ate and he’s followed a strict diet all his life that he continues now that he’s pretty much on his own at the University of Florida (one training table meal per day per NCAA rules).
“I eat strict kosher,” Patchan said. “It’s really healthy. I don’t eat pork because it needs to be a four-legged animal with split hooves and chew the cud. If it has split hooves and chews the cud, the animal has a four-chambered stomach, such as cows and goats. It takes longer for the food that they eat to digest and become acclimated to their system as part of their meat. It’s around 24 hours for cows and things like that.
“Pigs and other animals without split hooves and don’t chew the cud, usually they eat feces, it’s own young, or rotting trash, within four hours it’s part of the animal’s meat. You’re eating whatever it eats. I eat nothing from the sea or lakes that don’t have scales and fins. Everything else is a bottom feeder. No catfish, no crab, no lobster. Nothing farm raised at all. It’s tough to even find real beef that isn’t injected with some sort of thing.”
Patchan is even particular about the milk he drinks. You won’t find the milk in his refrigerator on a grocery store shelf. What he drinks is as close as you can get to straight from the cow.
“Luckily my dad gets me milk with no homogenization or pasteurization that’s really good,” Patchan said. “It sounds gross, but it’s really good. That’s how God intended it to be. That’s how nature is. Our food supply is corrupt right now, so I try to eat as healthy as I can.”
You won’t catch him downing a soda, either.
“Absolutely not,” Patchan said. “I haven’t had a soda since the summer of seventh grade. Sodas are awful for your body. It’s more addictive than smoking cigarettes.”
The most important factor to deciding your diet, according to Patchan, actually comes from knowing your blood type. Different blood types were derived from different time periods, which effect how well a person responds to different types of food.
“I eat as much meat as possible,” Patchan said. “I’m blood type ‘O,’ and ‘O’ is the oldest blood type there is. Back when it was just the ‘O’s as humans, we were hunters and gatherers. The diet of our predecessors was mainly meat eating and some berries. ‘O’s do a lot better with a lot of meat in them, so I eat a lot of red meat.
Blood type ‘A’ developed from ‘O’ when we learned how to farm, so they’re agrarian. They’re bodies are adapt and perform better with fruits and berries and things that they grow.”
Patchan first got interested in nutrition and health when he was in middle school. Since then he’s constantly read everything he can get his hands on about the subject. He even reads differing philosophies to see which one would fit him the best.
“I love to read,” Patchan said. “Back in eighth grade I started really getting into this stuff by reading and trying to understand everything. I constantly read books. I don’t like to read the schoolbooks they give us, but I like to read my own stuff that will help me out in life.”
Matt Patchan Sr. certainly should get some of the credit for teaching his son to be interested in this, but there are others the sophomore talks to about his health. Dr. Richard Shaker has worked with plenty of Tampa athletes, including Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton.
Dr. Shaker is one of Patchan’s good friends and has assisted him on most of his injuries.
“I’ve got a doctor I hang out with at home who is unbelievable,” Patchan said. “He does stuff that is from Europe, like manipulation stuff. It’s surgery without surgery. He can keep me on the field with nothing. Last summer, I pulled my hamstring with a real bad pull. I was going to be out for three or four weeks. I went to him and I was running the next day.”
Dr. Shaker’s relationship with Patchan has become closer as the sophomore has dealt with multiple freak injuries. The last injury suffered by Patchan came four weeks before the National Championship Game, and Dr. Shaker almost made it possible for Patchan to play.
“I had them cut a hole out of my cast and I went to see him,” Patchan said. “He was doing his things with me, and then the day I got out of the cast I saw him. I was running and I was cutting. The day after that I was squatting. The day after that I squatted 350 pounds.
“I came back and my whole goal was that I wanted to play in the National Championship Game. They wouldn’t let me play because they said no one ever comes back that fast. I had pads on and could do everything. I was real upset about that.”
Missing out on the national championship game frustrated him but it also motivated him to do whatever it takes to play this fall. Now that he’s made the move to the offensive line, he’s determined to let nothing get in his way.
“It bugged me, but it motivated me to do everything I could so when I came to camp I was ready to give my 100% best,’ he said. “Those are my goals.”
Patchan began the transition from defensive line to offensive tackle in the spring. It only took one or two practices for coaches to notice that he’s a natural on the offensive side of the ball. He takes to coaching well and puts what he’s taught into practice immediately
“It’s two different positions, but Coach Addazio is really good,” Patchan said. “Every day I have learned a lot with him and gotten better. Every day you have to take another step forward.”
A key attribute of Patchan’s game is his quickness and athleticism. The worry with him being just short of 290 pounds now is that he may have lost it, but the question is something Patchan can only laugh off.
“I’m extremely athletic right now,” Patchan said, somewhat appalled that the question was even asked. “I actually got faster. I blew all my combine stuff that we tested on, I did it all even faster.”
The battle to start will be decided through the coming weeks of camp. Left guard James Wilson, center Sam Robey and Patchan are battling it out with Johnson, the Pouncey twins and Marcus Gilbert for the five spots on the offensive line. The competition is intense but it keeps everybody on the line motivated.
“We all work hard and it’s not a personal thing,” Patchan said. “Whoever wins the spot, wins the spot. We’re all going to play a lot. There’s going to be injuries, and there’s going to be things happening, but it motivates everybody to work as hard as they can.”
And nobody will work harder than Patchan this fall.