Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi will form one of the best offensive tackle duos in the country this season, and both are projected as future NFL draft picks. But it’s food — or the lack thereof — that has bonded them as the Cavaliers make their way through the preseason.
Moses, the team’s starting right tackle, chose to eschew fast food this offseason, drastically altering his diet and eating habits in order to drop 25 pounds. Aboushi, meanwhile, spent the first two weeks of Virginia’s training camp fasting from sunrise to sunset in observance of the Muslim holiday Ramadan.
Each provided the other with encouragement, although Moses joked this week that “I swear he’s trying to get me on a no-pork diet.”
“We both helped get our bodies in the right spot,” Aboushi said.
Now they have their sights set on being the bedrocks of a Virginia offensive line that will pave the way for a plethora of weapons at the skill positions.
For Moses, the buildup to this season began when Virginia lost to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A bowl last year. A highly touted recruit when he arrived in Charlottesville in 2010, Moses considers that game one of the best of his college career after he dropped five pounds from his then-350-pound frame during bowl practices.
The 6-foot-6 Richmond native now tips the scales at 325 pounds, thanks to a plan created by a nutritionist that emphasizes grilled chicken, salmon, pasta and not eating meals after 8 p.m. every night.
“My mindset was if I can play five pounds lighter and feel really good doing it, why not 20 pounds, 25 pounds,” said Moses, who added that the extra weight brought on fatigue as last season wore on. “The hardest thing was just being out late at night and the only thing that’s open is McDonald’s or some other fast-food place. It was like, ‘Dang, I guess I gotta wait until tomorrow morning.’ ”
Coach Mike London also sees a new maturity about Moses, and a motivation to resemble the player who was named to several freshman all-America teams in 2010 instead of the uneven performer that, at times, weighed down Virginia’s offensive line.
“When he lost weight before, it was kind of one of those liquid diets. Put on a rubber suit and run around and lose 10 pounds: ‘Hey Coach, I lost it,’ ” London said. “I think it’s a mind-set that has been created or kind of revealed to him that if you take care of your body, it’s gonna take care of your performance on the field. . . . And when a big guy loses  pounds and can drive by McDonald’s and not order a No. 6 and super-size it, I think he’s really getting it.”
Aboushi, a senior left tackle, has a new appreciation for food as well. Though he has observed Ramadan during past training camps, this year’s observance coincided with practices for a longer period of time than in any of Aboushi’s previous three years in the program.
Ramadan, which ended Saturday, calls on Muslims to not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset over the course of a month. Aboushi was forced to break his fast a couple times because of the grueling nature of two-a-day practices.
“It’s become more of a satisfying thing, where you’re really able to appreciate where your next meal is coming from and what you’re trying to accomplish during your day,” Aboushi said. “It’s about giving yourself to a bigger cause.”
It only makes sense, then, that both Aboushi and Moses have taken some of Virginia’s dynamic freshmen defensive ends — Eli Harold, former All-Met Michael Moore and Courtnye Wynn — under their wing, battling them on the practice field and offering pointers off it. Their most important role, however, will be protecting the front and blind side of whoever emerges from Virginia’s three-way battle to be starting quarterback.
And with so many relying on them this year, Aboushi and Moses know how lucky they are to have each other to lean on — with or without food.
“Having a guy like that with the same expectations, you hold yourself to a higher standard,” Moses said of Aboushi. “He’s more like a brother than a teammate.”