This Detroit Lion turned a $500 weight loss challenge into an NFL opportunity

Greg Levinsky
Detroit Free Press
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The cost of room and board alone was too much to handle, never mind the full price of the college experience. Living at home seemed like the best bet for Micah St. Andrew.

Imagine putting yourself through vigorous weight loss and getting close to your athletic dream, only to see it slip away because of financial hardship. 

That’s where this NFL journey nearly ended, but it's also where it started.

St. Andrew's chance at an NFL career would never have happened if not for taking a risk, stepping out of his comfort zone, and improving his physical health for life. 

After a recent Detroit Lions training camp practice, the undrafted rookie out of Fresno State stood nearly in disbelief about how far he has come.

“This was always unforeseen for my future, at least in my own head,” said St. Andrew, 23.

How he got to Lions training camp is a testament to his dedication not only to the game of football, but also to transforming his body. 

Micah St. Andrew goes through drills during training camp Sunday in Allen Park.

College coaches did not offer the then-400-pounder a football scholarship out of high school because of his weight. His play was never a question, but his physical condition was.

After high school, St. Andrew wanted to improve his body and enrolled in a fitness boot camp. He paid a $500 deposit for the six-week training session.

"The Camp Transformation Center is the place to be if you really want a serious change in life and health for better," the program's website reads. "This is an amazing place to get real results, melt your lbs down, change your life for good, kill bad habits, build strength and find true people with the same objective as you and also make friends."

If St. Andrew lost at least 20 pounds, he'd get the money back. If not, the $500 was gone.

That was all the motivation he'd need. 

Lose it or lose out

Vinny Fazio coached St. Andrew during his junior year at Eisenhower High School in Rialto, California. He was 6 feet 3 and over 400 pounds, but moved on the field like someone much lighter.

St. Andrew played both offense and defense. He was one of the best players on his team, but Fazio couldn’t get college coaches to look past St. Andrew’s weight.

“We were in a pretty good league, so we had a lot of college coaches coming through,” Fazio said. “I literally begged every college coach, ‘You’ve got to take this kid. You will love him. He’s going to be great. When you get him on campus, he’s going to lose the weight.' ”

Fazio said opposing coaches were always impressed, and St. Andrew had “reverence” among teammates and opponents.

St. Andrew rarely came off the field. Athletic trainers imposed no limits on St. Andrew’s activity, and while Fazio was concerned for his overall health, St. Andrew played well, helping Eisenhower to two Citrus Belt League titles.

Micah St. Andrew (far left, No. 75) celebrates with his Eisenhower (Calif.) teammates after capturing the 2012 Citrus Belt League title.

Fazio was certain St. Andrew would lose weight under a college conditioning and diet program, yet no Division I or II school would offer St. Andrew a scholarship.

“Everyone was just scared of that weight,” Fazio said.

It’d be short-sighted to say what came next was the reason St. Andrew is in the NFL, but it gave him a start.

There was that $500 on the line, and St. Andrew knew he couldn’t afford to lose it.

He graduated high school at 415 pounds and enrolled at The Camp Transformation Center in Fontana, Calif.

“I definitely wanted to make a change for myself, just for my health and the livelihood of myself,” St. Andrew said. “Football gave me the discipline, gave me the goal set in my head to actually get here.”

He was successful, and while he never worried so much about the weight himself, he eventually found inspiration.

“You never really notice it until someone points it out,” St. Andrew said. “There was a point where I just didn’t care anymore, then I began to care again.

“It’s one thing to be comfortable with your body and it’s another thing to actually be in a healthy space with your body.”

Culinary school or football?

Micah St. Andrew at Lions practice Sunday.

No college scholarship offers came, so St. Andrew enrolled at Fresno State and joined the football team as a walk-on. Memphis had also extended him a chance to walk-on, but he chose Fresno State because of its proximity to home, about four hours away. 

"It was far away enough from home where I could experience something new," St. Andrew said. "It's also close enough where my parents could come to every game and visit me when I needed them." 

He hoped for a scholarship to come, but it wasn't ever much of an expectation. It certainly wasn't a sure thing.

St. Andrew promised himself to work hard in a redshirt year.

After that initial season, 2014, finances got tight. St. Andrew’s walk-on spot didn’t seem worth the full-brunt cost of tuition.

Other opportunities looked more promising.   

St. Andrew always had a love for cooking and envisions opening a restaurant one day. After his freshman year, St. Andrew readied to live at home and attend culinary school at American Career College. He called the Fresno State coaching staff to let them know he would not be returning.

Thirty minutes later, his phone rang with a familiar number. The call came from Cameron Norcross, Fresno State’s offensive line coach at the time.

“He told me he was going to offer me a scholarship,” St. Andrew said. “I ended up staying and playing football.”

Norcross, now the offensive line coach at Vanderbilt, said St. Andrew could’ve been a scholarship player out of high school, but he was “too heavy.”

Knowing the potential St. Andrew had, Fresno State offered. Norcross described the young lineman as “emotional.”

“You just know what those calls mean to those young men,” Norcross said. “They’ve been working their whole life to accomplish a goal, and they had to go about it a different way than a lot of kids do, and they did it. It means more to them.

“From what I remember, it meant a lot to Micah.”  

The offer coming from Norcross, who was a walk-on himself at Nevada, made it even more meaningful.

"He understands the struggle," St. Andrew said. "Being a walk-on is hard. ... Some of the other guys are getting everything paid for, they have a different lifestyle.

"He definitely paved the way for me, gave me the understanding to live the walk-on life and how to succeed after that." 

From there, with an offer in hand, St. Andrew was all in for football. 

“Once I got the scholarship, I dedicated my life to it,” St. Andrew said. “It became what my life was.”

He became the first member of his immediate family to obtain a college degree, earning a degree in economics.

Football career takes off

Fresno State offensive lineman Micah St. Andrew blocks a Boise State defender Dec. 1, 2018, in Boise, Idaho.

St. Andrew improved and played in nine games, starting five, as a redshirt freshman for the Bulldogs. During those first two years, St. Andrew ramped up his fitness.

“What kept me going was the camaraderie in the locker room,” St. Andrew said. "Just growing closer to my teammates, they’re the ones that are going to pick you up when times are tough.”

Coaches at Fresno State pushed him to get in better shape. During those first two years of college, St. Andrew dropped to 328 pounds. He has since gotten as low as 323 for his pro day.  

He started all 12 games as a sophomore and all 14 in both his junior and senior seasons. St. Andrew was an All-Mountain West second-team selection in 2018. 

Fellow Lions Charles Washington and Kenny Wiggins are also Fresno State alums. Washington played with St. Andrew, and Wiggins is on the offensive line with the Lions. They’ve both helped him in the transition as an undrafted free agent.

“It’s a blessing to have them here, and it’s a blessing that they’re able to help me the way that they do,” St. Andrew said.

Now St. Andrew is solely focused on his football career, one that no college coaches wanted to be a part of.

Not even St. Andrew himself envisioned this until it came. No one did. 

"It's just a blessing to be here," he said. 

Contact Greg Levinsky: Follow him on Twitter @GregLevinsky.

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