"He had the shoulder, the Achilles where he couldn't even flex his foot," Mason said. "And on top of that, he was 415 pounds. We had our work cut out for us. It was a yearlong project, and Ma'ake went through a lot of ups and downs. He had developed a lot of bad habits when he was out of football, and we really had to discipline him in a lot of ways."
Kemoeatu's biggest challenge was his diet. A native of Tonga, a group of islands in the South Pacific, Kemoeatu stayed in Virginia largely because the food on the West Coast and in Hawaii, where he grew up, was too enticing.
"Ma'ake was the red-meat king," Mason said. "That's really where his weight shot up. In his culture, that's their kind of thing, they eat a ton of red meat. They love to eat, spend time with family and it's a beautiful thing. But I told him, 'You don't have the luxury at 415 pounds to be festive every weekend.' We would have him down 20 pounds and he would come back on Monday 15 pounds up, and he'd be like, 'Well, at least I'm still 5 pounds down.' I said, 'That's not going to work.'"
After ditching some of those bad habits, Kemoeatu embraced a rigorous training routine that included plyometric exercises ,yoga and "everything you could think of," according to Mason. He regained full flexibility in his Achilles, thanks to his physical therapist, Mike Davis. His diet now consisted of fish, chicken, salad, fruit and Body by Visalus shakes.
"I always say losing weight is like being in a relationship. The more faithful you are in the relationship, the more successful it's going to be," Kemoeatu said. "I had to be faithful to my diet."
In May, confident he was now ready to help an NFL team, he had his agent send Ravens officials a current picture of himself and a tape of one of his recent workouts.
"Remember, they saw me in September. When I send them those pictures in May, they were like, 'Nah man, this is Photo-shopped. This can't be him,'" Kemoeatu said. I'm glad Harbaugh and [general manager Ozzie Newsome] and those guys gave me an opportunity to come back. They say once you're a Raven, you're always a Raven."
Kemoeatu stepped on the scale this week and was down to 337 pounds, meaning he had lost 78 pounds in less than a year and now weighed less than he did when he left the Ravens seven years earlier. He would like to settle around 315 pounds -- "I'm starting to see little abs show up," he joked -- but his coaches have reminded him not to lose too much girth, considering his primary role will be to occupy space in the middle and keep blockers off middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Mason attended a Ravens practice two weeks ago. What he saw bore no resemblance to the man he had encountered less than a year earlier.
"It was almost like a proud dad going to watch his son," Mason said. "You've seen the labor, the hard work that went into it, and you actually get to see the final process of coming down from 415 pounds and having the potential to jump-start his career again. I think this time, Ma'ake is going to be 110 percent better. You're looking at a totally reinvented Ma'ake: mind, body and spirit."