FAYETTEVILLE - Shawn Andrews naturally is going to be the Razorbacks' biggest story.
The University of Arkansas would be hard-put ever to put forth a bigger story than its 6-5, 350-plus junior right offensive tackle from Camden Fairview.
Andrews was good enough to be consensus All-American last year, and graces about every preseason All-American list this year and be both a preseason Outland and Lombardi Trophy nominee. However, he was the big story when the Razorbacks reported Sunday for preseason drills because he spent much of July home with his mother in Camden instead of working out with teammates in the "voluntary" workouts in Fayetteville.
The last two bowl games, by which, after holiday visits home, Andrews' weight annually seemed to have swelled like the national debt, induced plenty of speculation that he would arrive bloated.
But coach Houston Nutt said he and offensive line coach Mike Markuson had been assured Andrews would report in good shape, and Nutt said that's indeed the case.
"Since January," Nutt said, "he's probably lost pretty close to 40 pounds. I'm proud of that, and Coach Markuson is, too. I bet he's between 350 and 355. He was at 346 about 10 days ago but had one little splurge with mom. But I'm proud of him. We all know how hard it is to lose weight."
As of Sunday afternoon, Andrews wasn't sure how much he had lost.
He's made it more of a waiting game than a weighting game so as not to get discouraged looking daily at the scales.
"To be honest," Andrews said, "I really haven't weighed this summer. I just put myself in the mindset that I am training so far and looked in the mirror every day and saw improvements and my waistline going down and felt so much better. I''m pretty sure I'm down from the spring and I have a plan to lose 15 more in two-a-days."
Andrews said he recently did "reward myself" by indulging in the home cooking he's shied away from this summer.
Mostly, though, he said he fought his battle of the bulge and did a lot of running.
Far more important to Andrews than whether he ran his conditioning sprints back home alone or with his teammates in Fayetteville was spending time with his mother.
Andrews' cousin, Jonathan Cheatham, was killed while serving for the U.S. Army in Iraq, and his older brother Derrick is in the armed forces in Iraq.
"I talked to my teammates," Andrews said. "They knew and understood. My mom is doing well, and being home took the pressure off me."
Shawn likely needed time away from Fayetteville even without all the family concerns in Camden. It seems agents, or maybe wannabe agents, were hounding him like fleas on a hound. He's been changing phone numbers like Madonna changed outfits.
"I know I may sound like I'm full of it," Andrews said, "but agents were everywhere. I couldn't go to a grocery store. It was like they were following me everywhere. The way they were coming at me, I had to let them know in a semi-nice way that I'm not interested right now and that you could ruin my eligibility. I don't talk to any of them."
Sometimes, he's learning, it's advisable not to talk even to some who are supposedly supporting you. He's gotten letters about his weight from some "fans" that would try Job's patience.
"The weight issue," Andrews said. "I hear it on radio and even got some rude letters from fans. Stuff about Korey Stringer (the overweight Minnesota Viking who died of heat exhaustion) and 'Hey fat a--, you need to lose weight.' A couple of letters I returned. Just told them I'm trying to lose weight and do the best I can."
And no, he said, he doesn't use those negatives to reinforce being positive but instead sees how staying positive has overcome the negatives.
"They are Razorback fans," Andrews said, shaking his head, "and I'm sure most of them want me to do well, but the negativity, I don't understand it, but that's the way it is. You've just got to take the good with the bad and stay positive. I've got to keep fighting as far as food goes. I've gotten better and make better choices, but it's something I have to deal with every day. I did a lot of running and cardiovascular this summer. I didn't do all that training for nothing.