When Jacob Rice met D.J. Fluker this spring, two things about the new client he’d agreed to train at his Seattle-area facility struck him, one obvious and one less so.
The first: “He’s a huge dude. Huge. That dude is just a monster.” The second: “He didn’t understand food at all.”
This was the Duality of D.J. that Rice came to grasp. Here was one of the nicest guys he would ever get to know, one of the smartest, one of the most athletically gifted, a 6-foot-5 frame you would dream up in a lab for an NFL interior lineman. And here was someone who seemed almost willfully ignorant of what his body needed to survive in professional football. There was something still to unlock in his game.
So long before Fluker arrived at Ravens training camp looking every bit the part of the team’s starting right guard, before he cut almost 50 pounds from his hulking physique with eight-hour workouts, before he could do a single sit-up, he would show up to Rice’s studio in Mercer Island, Washington, not having eaten much. Fluker wanted to get in shape, after all. A caloric deficit was an important piece of the puzzle.
Then the workouts would start. “Terrible,” Rice called them. Because when Fluker was undereating, maybe it was just 1,200 calories per day, but they were “terrible” calories, too. To revitalize his career, Fluker would have to remake his body. And to remake his body, he’d have to reframe his thinking about what it required to run. He needed better fuel, better food.
Most of all, he needed better help.
“It’s a challenge for any big guy,” Fluker said in an interview Wednesday. “But what it came down to is really about mental toughness and having someone on your ass that cares about you as a person, more than just a player — as a human being, for your own health. I think that really helped me. I had more of a structured way of doing things, and that helped. Structure helps. I don’t care what you do. Structure helps, and it helps you to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
‘I felt awful'
When Fluker started training with Rice in late March — a month before the Seattle Seahawks released him with a year still left on his contract — neither liked what they saw in the other. Fluker was heavy, a “big boy,” said Rice. He weighed about 395 pounds. Worse, he was lazy.
Fluker didn’t much appreciate Rice’s honesty. Their first couple of days together, Fluker didn’t speak to him. They weren’t getting along. At one point, a frustrated Rice told him that his money was no longer any good.
“If you’re not successful, I’ll give you all your sessions,” Rice remembered saying. “I’m not going to let you pay me. I don’t care. If you’re not making progress, I’m not going to let you pay me.”
Fluker had started 14 games for Seattle the year before. He’d spent the early months of his offseason working out in Hawaii. And still, Rice found, he was incapable of completing the most basic body-weight exercises. Fluker couldn’t complete a sit-up. Couldn’t do an ab rollout. When they’d go out to run, Fluker would climb 20 stairs “and he would die,” Rice said.
“I felt awful, man,” Fluker said.
Yet no matter how hard Rice made it for him — he once doled out a 5-mile run for merely entertaining the notion of scarfing down homemade cookies — Fluker “just wouldn’t give up.” As a friendship formed and a trust developed, the fat started to fly off. Rice would hear from other clients about how much weight Fluker had started to lose, but he told them to keep the comments to themselves. He wasn’t letting Fluker see the scale.
When Fluker finally did weigh in, one month into working out, it read: 372. This was what he’d feared. Seahawks coaches hadn’t wanted him above the 360s, and he’d been eating so much. Then Rice told him, no, he’d actually lost weight.
“And I’m telling you, this dude, he went nuts. Nuts,” Rice said. “He was just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ... And then next time he got up [on the scale], and it was 360. And his shoulders started coming in. He hasn’t had shoulders almost his whole career. And then he started seeing his triceps. He was walking around my gym flexing and just cracking up.”
No letting up
Rice wanted Fluker to be better at age 29 than he was at age 21, and he wanted to help. The coronavirus pandemic had hit Washington state hard, but it had made Rice’s schedule flexible. Before long, Fluker’s transformation was an everyday project.
The more they talked, the better Rice understood what drove Fluker. When Fluker was worried or depressed, he’d eat. “I mean, it’s anything in the house,” Rice said. “It doesn’t matter. If it’s around, he’ll eat it.” And when Fluker was working out, he’d do it for hour after hour if it were fun. Drudgery was a nonstarter.
So Rice tried to bring joy to every session. They worked out with Rice’s other well-to-do clients. They ran. They pushed sleds. They boxed. They went to the basketball court for impromptu dunk contests or 3-point shootouts. They threw medicine balls on football fields and sprinted after them. They watched movies while exercising. And if Rice deemed any session unsatisfactory, he’d make Fluker do it again, even if it meant another day or two of the silent treatment.
“You’ve just got to hunker in and just think about what really matters to you,” Fluker said. “Me being in the best shape of my life matters to me. Getting back to my spiritual life mattered to me. Things like that. And then having a trainer that stayed on my ass all day long about doing the right thing, getting back to who you used to be, I think that was really important in transforming.”
And it was an all-day-long occupation. Rice had a chef prepare meals for Fluker every Sunday, which would last through the week. When Rice woke up, he’d text Fluker to ask how he felt and what he wanted to do, and he’d remind him to eat his breakfast. At first, Fluker had scoffed at eating more, but Rice wanted him to speed up his metabolism. So every two hours or so, another healthy meal was on his plate.
There was just no letting up. They trained every day. Sometimes their workouts would go on for eight hours. It was a schedule of perpetual motion, Fluker moving from the sauna to the Smith machine to the bench press to the weight sled to the football field and back to the studio for stretching, because, well, “he really wants to be a big guy that does the splits like Vince Wilfork.” After a second trip to the stairs, clearing 250 in all, Rice would call it a day.
“I have never had a guy give me everything that he’s had, or anybody, and still want the max,” said Rice, who’s trained athletes for over two decades. “I can’t tell you how strong this guy has gotten and how much smarter and body-conscious he has gotten at his age. ... I would compare him honestly to Michael Jordan in the aspect of how he is physically. He knew what he needed to do, but just nobody really brought it together and helped him.”
‘Everything’s thumbs-up with D.J.'
Fluker’s physical metamorphosis would make Jenny Craig jealous. He said Wednesday that he’s now down to 348 pounds. His body fat has been halved, from 44% to 22%. (The American Council on Exercise considers men over 25% obese.)
The pain in Fluker’s knee and shoulder that bothered him last year is gone. His back feels better, too. Ask him to show off, and he can get his elbow to the rim in basketball — “I’ve got a vertical,” he joked. “Crazy” — or crank out repetition after repetition of a standing ab rollout.
When he shared the results of his makeover on Instagram last week, Fluker wrote that “the end results put me in the best body and mindset I have ever had.” On Wednesday, three days of padded practices into the first training camp since All-Pro Marshal Yanda’s retirement, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Fluker, a former first-round pick, has looked “excellent.”
“Moving very well,” he said. “This is a big guy, and it’s all muscle, as you guys know; you saw the body comp stuff there that he put out. And he’s moving very well. I’m really impressed with him. He’s done a great job. His attitude has been excellent. His work ethic, we had heard it was good, and I would say it’s been better than good. It’s been an ‘A,’ ‘A-plus.’ So everything’s thumbs-up with D.J.”
Fluker, who signed a one-year deal in May, said he’s “never felt so good in my life.” He did have one complaint: His clothes no longer fit. The old shirts in his wardrobe are two sizes too big.
But for all that Fluker could appreciate Wednesday about how far he’d come, there was one blind spot. When a reporter mentioned to Fluker that he’d weighed close to 400 pounds not long ago, he was miffed. Rice hadn’t told him just how heavy he was when he’d started.
Later, Fluker wanted to pass along a message through Rice: Make sure to share those old pictures — the photos from when he used to look chubby.