EAST CHICAGO | Last Friday night Denzel Thruston had a slice of pizza. The E.C. Central offensive tackle was celebrating his Cardinals' 46-44 win over West Side in the Class 4A Sectional 17 championship game, the first sectional title in school history.
Post-game pizza parties are the norm for many area football players. But for Thruston, the one piece of pie was a rarity.
This former meat lover has changed his life for the better. The food that was once killing him and his family is no longer.
"We all had to start eating healthier," Thruston said. "It was something we had to do."
If you think Thruston is nervous or anxious about playing Class 4A No. 3 New Prairie in tonight's regional, you would be wrong. Very incorrect.
The bright lights at Pete Rucinski Field will shine on the Cardinals as they continue to be one of the state's top Cinderella stories in this postseason.
But these lights are nothing compared to the ones that lit up the face of the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Thruston, who plays with a mean streak that coach Stacy Adams loves.
"I love hitting people," Thruston said with a TV-like smile on his face.
Four years ago, Thruston and his family flew to New York and were on the Dr. Oz television program, where Dr. Mehmet Oz dealt with the family's struggles with obesity.
Thruston lost his grandfather, Everett T. Warren III, just before they went on the Oz show in 2009. He weighed 540 pounds. He was 56.
"I was his favorite grandchild," Thruston said. "It was sad when he died. We always spent time together, played games. He bought me clothes and things like that. I still miss him to this day."
Thruston weighed 313 pounds in eighth grade. With diet and exercise, he got down to 230 pounds after appearing on the show. He started eating more vegetables. Like Jared, he started eating at Subway.
"He talked to us about what we ate," Thruston said of Oz. "You can't just sit around and eat chips."
While Thruston's weight is now up, it is muscle and not fat. His strength has helped lead the Cardinals to a place they've never been before. And E.C. does not plan on stopping here.
"Denzel has a mean streak," Adams said. "He got ejected in the Lake Central game last year because he got into it with one of their linemen. This game is going to be physical. That's the way Denzel likes it.
"It doesn't take much to get him going."
He is being recruited by Robert Morris, Anderson and Illinois State. If he can help his team continue on in the playoffs the number of colleges looking at him could increase.
Few are those who think E.C. can beat former Griffith coach Russ Radtke's team. This meal could be too much?
"I believe in my team," Thruston said. "I've believed in them this whole year. We just have to work hard and we can beat these guys."
And if this does happen have two slices of pizza when it's over. You've earned it.