Hunger for Success

DE Cameron Wake

Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake is getting a lot of national attention these days, and the story of his remarkable journey from being an unwanted NFL prospect to working as a trainer and then going to Canada before coming to the NFL and becoming a star should be well known by now. But there is one aspect of the Cam Wake story that hasn't gotten much attention.

It's a story that was chronicled in the pages of Dolphin Digest last year, a story that remains as significant today.

It's the story of Wake's obsession with healthy eating, something he says has played a major role in his success as a football player.

It's a story worth retelling.

* * *

Cameron Wake just couldn't say no.

It was the day after a Dolphins victory and the wife of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle had baked some chocolate chip cookies for the players.

"I don't want to be disrespectful or anything like that, so I had a taste of it — a little taste," Wake would say later. "It was a winning celebration, ‘good job guys' kind of thing. I had to taste it.

"You don't want to be that guy."

So Wake took one of the cookies and ate part of it before disposing of the rest.

"I can't say I didn't like it, but it's just not my thing," Wake said. "Cookies, cakes, it's really not my forte."

No, Cameron Wake is all about eating healthy.

Before he bit into Mrs. Coyle's cookie, pretty much the only snack his teammates had ever seen him munch on was grapes.

To say Wake watches what he eats would be putting it mildly.

"Very strict diet, very strict," says fellow defensive lineman Randy Starks. "We might snack on candy in the room, but this guy is snacking on grapes. I don't even think he drinks Gatorade; he drinks straight water. Yeah, it's too many calories for him.

"I said, that's what I need to do to get a six-pack. He's strict, but as you see it's working out for him."

And that's the whole point.

Wake is looking for an edge, any edge, to help him succeed in football and he's convinced eating right and taking care of his body help him do that.

Considering he has established himself as one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the NFL, it's hard to argue with a lifestyle he first adopted after arriving on campus at Penn State a little more than a decade ago.

"You know what happened? My first day at Penn State I weighed 206 pounds," Wake recalled. "I was small. I was supposed to play D-end. Penn State. Big Ten. Riiight. So I started getting at the training table and I'm starting to notice like up to that point you're using what God gave you, you're running around, you're in high school, you're not a nutritionist or on a weight plan, just running around and having fun.

"But then you get to college and it starts, this is real, this is business. This is not just throw the ball around back; you can set your life up. And I'm thinking, OK, when I eat this, I can go out and do this. When I eat that, I heal faster, I feel better. I started seeing a correlation. I was like, well, why not? Let me just try it."

Wake says he slowly but surely eliminated from his diet things like cheeseburgers and pizza and French fries and chips, and quickly put on 30 pounds of muscle.

"People used to make fun of me, but I'm putting on all this weight, I'm lifting weights, I'm doing all those things and it's starting to show up on the field. So I'm thinking, cheeseburger or tackles, and wins and success?

"To me, I don't even miss it. Like, why would I have a cheeseburger versus a salad in my mind? Even if it's just one step faster or one bump that heals faster or I feel 10 percent fresher. Why not take that advantage versus that 10 minutes of pleasure eating a fatty sandwich or whatever."

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but Wake hasn't missed a single game because of injury since he signed with the Dolphins in 2009 after two spectacular seasons in the Canadian Football League.

He was inactive for the first two games of the '09 season, but that was a result of the coaching staff feeling he wasn't quite ready to contribute after being asked to make the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme the Dolphins employed at the time.

Even beyond missing a game, when is the last time we have seen Wake getting off the field slowly? And it's not because the guy doesn't play hard.

No, Wake is all out all the time, and that's another reason for his success as a pass rusher.

With Wake switching back to defensive end (last) season as the Dolphins moved back to a 4-3 base defense, defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers (got) the chance to work closely with Wake after watching him from more of a distance the (previous) three years.

"I didn't realize what a perfectionist he is," Rodgers said. "He really is a true professional. Just watching him from a distance, you don't really get that. But watching him every day in your meeting room, knowing what he brings to the table, he is a competitor. He's a guy that kind of plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. From the way he made it, going through the CFL to get to the NFL. That's the way he practices and that's the way he carries himself. You walk out there and say, well, he ain't the biggest guy, but if you're going to war you want him with you."

A lot (was) made — and rightfully so — of (former Dolphins) running back Reggie Bush's habit of staying after practice to work on strength or conditioning drills.

But practically not a day went by during training camp (last year) where Wake wouldn't lead a small group of defensive linemen in sprints after practice.

"That's the trick," Wake said. "See, you never have enough. There's always more. You can always be bigger, can always be faster, in better shape. I have a very high standard for myself. I'd like to think I'm one of the better-conditioned guys, but better is not good enough.

"I want to be the best I can possibly be. If I feel like I can go through practice and still get some extra, I'm going to go out there and bust my butt for addition. I'm going in the weight room on our day off so I can be stronger. It's just a mind-set I have. There's no end. That's it."

Wake says all the conditioning work comes in handy, especially in late-game situations.

"If you ask around the football world, pass rush might be the most strenuous thing you do on the football field," Wake says. "A guy like me, giving up 80, 90 pounds to some of these guys and you're firing off the ball, straining your effort, trying to get to the quarterback every play and you've got to go out there and do it again, it's not easy.

"When it's a long drive and those big fat boys are leaning over, breathing hard, that's when you want to kick in your second gear. Out there, I'm thinking, what if it's fourth-and-long, you're tired, the fans don't care, the coach doesn't care, people at home don't care. they don't want to know how your day off was, they don't want to know how was your trip to Jamaica. They want to know, are you going to get to the quarterback, are you going to get the ball on the ground? That's when you want to have that mind-set, you know what, I prepared, I'm ready, turn that second gear on, let's go."

All of Wake's hard work — along with some natural ability obviously — paid off in the (2012) offseason when he signed a new six-year contract with the Dolphins.

Wake received the largest signing bonus ever given for a CFL player to make the jump to the NFL, but he clearly deserved a raise after producing on a consistent basis for the Dolphins.

The new contract, which goes through the 2016 season, reportedly included $20 million in guaranteed money for Wake — not bad for a guy whose only taste of the NFL in the four seasons after his senior year in college was a six-week stint with the New York Giants in the spring of 2005.

"I always try to think of myself as a guy who once I cross these lines here it's all football," Wake said. "There's all kinds of distractions. You're bleeding, you're hot, you're sweaty, you're tired, those are distractions. You've got to go out there and perform. Contract situation, ‘Hard Knocks' cameras, those are all things that you put in the background. You go out there and play, but at the end of the day, it is a good feeling to know that you're rewarded for your hard work and your efforts and they pay off. It does feel good."

Wake hasn't let up one bit since he signed his new deal in May (of 2012). He's still working as hard as ever and he's still watching what he eats as religiously — the chocolate chip cookie notwithstanding.

The strict diet is something his teammates respect but they also make fun of him at times — and the same goes for Wake's habit of walking around without a shirt.

"He does that to impress girls," said defensive end and fellow Penn State alum Jared Odrick. "No, I'm serious, he does it to impress girls. He's one of those guys, he's just like (former Penn State star Aaron) Maybin. He can eat whatever the hell he wants and he wouldn't gain an ounce of fat. And that's the way he is. And he doesn't want to accept that. He likes being the cut guy that has his shirt off all the time.

"I'm serious ... I'm going to get this off my chest. He's a guy that likes it because when girls ask him, ‘Oh, you must have a really nice diet?' ‘Yeah, I don't eat any of this, any of that.' Yeah, you know damn well he wants to eat some stuff that we eat in the D-line room. It's just that he likes to hold that above our heads and the fact that he doesn't eat cheese sticks or eat fast food or Taco Bell. He's missing out on life, that's all I'm saying.

"Nah, I'm being rude, I guess. No, he does a great job of staying on his diet. I guess I'm saying that more with more jealousy than anything because it's hard for me to keep a diet like that."

For Wake, it's been a small price to pay to get to where he is right now.

"In my mind, those cheeseburgers and parties that I could have gone to, or those people who would have steered me off that temporary fun, that temporary gratification, would that mean more to me than sitting in this seat that I'm talking to you right now?" Wake asks. "And there are people I know along the way who were right with me and they were like, oh, I want to go party or drugs, I'm not going to go to school. They were on the same track, they made a different decision. Now, I'm sitting here talking to you and they're ... oh, yeah, they had a great cheeseburger, they had a great party, but they're at home or wherever they are in their life.

"To me, it's worth it."

This story appeared in the Dolphin Digest magazine. To subscribe to Dolphin Digest, call 1-800-932-4557.

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