The Jacksonville State senior quarterback just listened to his conscience and his coaches. The message from both was the same: Lose the weight or lose the starting job.
Ivory looked sharp in his dark tailored suit at the OVC Football Media Day earlier this week, his sport coat falling neatly off his shoulders.
Since the end of last year’s second-round playoff loss to Wofford, he has trimmed 35 pounds from his 6-foot-1 frame. At 227 today, he’s carrying the same weight he did as a high school junior — “when I could run,” he said.
That’s 8 pounds lighter than his listed weight on the roster every year he’s been in the program. And he’s lost six pounds since the spring game.
Playing time is a powerful motivator — especially when the quarterback spot is as crowded as it is in the Gamecocks’ camp these days.
“In our end-of-the-year meeting, that’s all they said,” Ivory said, referring to head coach Jack Crowe and offensive coordinator Ronnie Letson. “They didn’t say anything about weight, just if I couldn’t make the plays that they needed me to make, I wouldn’t be starting anymore.
“I understood where they were coming from. I want to be a coach myself, so I completely understood. I didn’t give them any problems about it. I just went and got something done.”
Even in the jumbo version, Ivory had what a lot of players would consider a pretty good year last season. In his first year as the full-time starter, he passed for 2,248 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 118 yards and two more scores.
Still, there was a sense inside the program a slimmer Ivory could have done a lot more. He was sacked eight times during the season, four in the Eastern Kentucky game that started the late-season swoon in which the Gamecocks lost three of their last four games.
The way Ivory was expanding, there were fears he might get like Reggie Stancil, the big-bodied quarterback of a decade ago who blew up and lost effectiveness — not to mention PT to younger players — his senior year.
“He got a little bit last year toward the end of becoming a non-mobile quarterback,” Letson said. “He couldn’t get out of trouble, couldn’t run. Some of the offense we wanted to use we couldn’t because he wasn’t as mobile as he was earlier in the year.
“This will get him back to being a mobile quarterback. Sometimes you’ll see he’ll make some runs and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ In the past, I always had to remind him about his weight, but this time he’s taken ownership of it on his own and … been determined to lose the weight. He looks totally different. Like a lot of things, you start doing it and get fanatical with it. He got fanatical with it.”
Ivory took the same approach running back Calvin Middleton did undergoing a similar transformation last year. Middleton shed 25 pounds during the off-season and returned to lead the Gamecocks in rushing for the second year in a row (with virtually the same per-game average) despite missing three games because of injuries.
Beyond doing some initial research on the internet, all Ivory really did to slim down was eat better — avoiding the carbs, the fried foods, the sugary drinks, and pushing away from the table. There’s a reason piling on costs you 15 yards.
The light bulb moment came two or three weeks in, when the quarterback stepped on the scale and it blinked back 16 pounds lighter than when he started.
“And when it started falling off, (when) I started seeing results, I started doing better at it; I kept it up,” he said. “I didn’t just constantly lose. I hit a wall, but I kept at it.”
One of the consequences of the program is Ivory had to buy all new clothes — he has gone from “pushing a 42” in slacks to wearing 38s “easily” now — a sacrifice he gladly accepted.
The issue now is maintaining what he’s done throughout the upcoming season. The coaching staff would like to see him lose a little bit more, but not too much. Ivory would second that — the only seconds his slim-fast approach would allow.
“I’ve been eating healthy for this long, it’s kind of hard,” he said. “I don’t want to lose too much. I don’t want to be 210 when we play our first game. That would be ridiculous.”
The Gamecocks would be happy with something around 220. At that weight, Crowe said after the spring game, Ivory is “another dimension ... people haven’t seen.” One, they project, who might become the best quarterback in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“Marques has established that he’s willing to do whatever it takes,” Crowe said Thursday. “What’s it been, 35 pounds? It wasn’t that he wasn’t fit, it’s that he wasn’t as athletic as he needed to be. It’s a phenominal transition. It’s going to be amazing, quite honestly, to see how it translates.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.