When the defensive linemen trotted onto the practice field for the first time last week, it appeared someone was missing.
Castro Masaniai, the big defensive tackle for the Oregon State football team, was nowhere to be seen.
After consulting with the roster and finding his number, there he stood.
He just looked different.
The senior was sporting a new slim look and he was missing the massive curly locks that hung wildly out the back of his helmet.
He had trimmed down, healed up and was focused on finishing his career strong.
“Boy, does he look different,” coach Mike Riley said. “He looks like a nice, well-spoken guy, which he is.”
Masaniai decided to cut the hair because it was just too much to maintain. He had been growing it out since he arrived on campus four years ago from Waipahu, Hawaii.
One day he decided to follow a whim. It took two sessions because his barber, teammate Kevin Unga, forgot the scissors so they used clippers in stages.
“I was excited to get rid of it,” Masaniai said. “My girlfriend was happy. My parents were happy. They wanted me to get rid of it a long time ago. I was rebelling. My parents never let me grow out my hair, then I came out here and there was so much freedom.”
But did he lose his intimidation factor?
“Isn’t a big guy enough?” Masaniai said. “But I don’t think so, it’s just hair.”
Being a big guy, however, was in flux for the last year. Masaniai registered a deceptive 6-foot-3, 354 pounds before camp opened. That’s actually heavier than the 334 pounds he was last year.
“It’s weird, but the scale doesn’t say that I lost weight,” Masaniai said. “A lot of people are paying me compliments because I’m trimming down.”
His frame is different. During the offseason his weight ballooned to 365 pounds.
Masaniai was rehabbing from a midseason broken leg and couldn’t run early in the offseason. In his down time in the winter, he ate and then he ate some more.
“I couldn’t work out and I couldn’t run,” Masaniai said. “I had to focus on what I ate, which is tough for me. Who doesn’t like to eat?”
To help get back into shape and eat better, Masaniai was turned on to a juicer by teammate Roman Sapolu. He was able to find a way to eat fruits and vegetables, instead of unhealthier food, to cut off his craving.
His favorite is a combination of kale, cucumber, celery and Granny Smith apples.
“I bought into it because it worked for Roman and his family,” Masaniai said. “We came from the same cultural background (Samoan) of being big in general. I wanted to be healthy, not just for football, but for later on after football. I didn’t want to be a big slob.”
Masaniai, however, needs his size and to be able to move around now. He’s a third-year starter and crucial in the run defense to take up blockers so the linebackers can get to the ball.
He’s yet to get through a season healthy. He broke a leg against BYU in the sixth game last year and tore his labrum in a shoulder during the seventh game against California in 2010.
“I’ve been anxious to get out there in a game since I’m yet to finish a season,” Masaniai said. “I’m looking to finish one to help the team and be productive. I just want to win games. Then I’m happy. If we get the team goals and everything else will fall in place.”
The defensive goal this year is to first improve the run defense. The Beavers held their own last year, but fell apart when he and Unga were hurt in the same game.
The Beavers finished last in the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing 196.8 yards a game.
How Masaniai plays — and how much — are critical to the team’s success.
“He’s very important to us,” defensive line coach Joe Seumalo said. “He’s a guy who played a lot for us and has been around. It’s important for him to stay healthy and be a great leader for our group and team.”