It all began the day Lance Scott stepped on the scale shortly after he reported to the University of Utah for his freshman season of football. With his new teammates looking on, the needle of the scale rose and fell, rose and fell . . . and stopped at 220 pounds.

"He's an offensive lineman?" he heard one of his teammates whisper behind him. "D ---, 220."That was it. For the next two years Scott ate himself into an offensive lineman's body. Some people said he did it with steroids, but it wasn't that. It was pure gluttony and long hours of pumping iron.

He ate and ate and ate until he was so full that he had to go lay down for a nap. He would eat three cheeseburgers and two bags of chips and come back an hour later and begin again. He stashed junk food in his dorm room - chips, crackers, cheese, and so on. He ate pasta every night, LATE at night, just before bed, so he wouldn't burn off calories by moving. Sometimes when he quit eating, it wasn't because he was full so much as he was simply tired of chewing. When Arby's offered five sandwiches for $5, he was there, slugging them all down in one sitting. He wasn't picky about what he ate: it just had to be a) cheap; b) plentiful; c) high in calories.

"I stuffed myself," he says. "I'd have to go home and sleep, I was so tired from eating. I would be dying."

We should all be so lucky, right? "The coaches told me I had to gain weight if I was going to play," he explains.

He did, and then some. Aiming for 280 pounds, Scott, who is 6-foot-3 3/4, actually overshot the mark by 10 pounds at the end of his sophomore year, which meant he had to stop eating the last two days before the 1992 Copper Bowl. By then, Scott had eaten himself into a center's job. He became a starter last year as a sophomore and a star this year. Weighing 275, Scott was one of only two Utes named to the All-Western Athletic Conference first team this season. On Thursday night he and his teammates will face USC in the Freedom Bowl.

"He had a great year," says McBride. "He's the best center in the league. He stays on people. He makes second-effort block. He's tenacious."

This season Scott delivered a team-leading 71 de-cleaters, marking each time he knocked an opponent off his feet. He also graded out at 93 percent or better (for how well he completed his assignments each play) for all but one game.

"He had incredible will to make it," says McBride. "He was driven."

Scott, a graduate of Taylorsville High and one of only two Utahns who start for the Utes, was the first recruit signed by McBride when he became head coach four years ago. It wasn't a tough sale. "I went in the house and everything was all red and white," recalls McBride. "He's wanted to play for Utah since he was 8."

Scott wanted to play for Utah partly so his family could watch him play, which was a luxury he rarely had earlier in his career. "Times were hard," Scott explains. "They were busy trying to earn a living." With his father, Bob, running through several job changes, money was tight. Sometimes the family was forced to turn to welfare. "I never had to do without the necessities," says Scott. "I just didn't have some of the extras."

Such as money for sports. Scott mowed lawns to pay the $45 he needed to register for little league football. With his parents away at work, he had to ride his bike more than a mile to practice, with his helmet dangling over the handle bars.

"My parents worked hard," says Scott. "They're doing well now, but it was hard for a while."

To make matters worse, Scott had his own problems. WAC linebackers might not believe it, but he was picked on by bullies in grade school. He was big for his age - short and fat, he says - and so the older kids singled him out for ridicule until his mother, Brenda, came to his rescue.

"I'm a mama's boy," says Scott. "I play for her. She was always there for me. She'd come down and scare the daylights out of the big guys who were picking on me. She's big - 6-foot-1. She'd toss 'em."

Eventually, the teasing stopped, as Scott grew from short and fat to skinny and tall, but the experience left him combative. He was kicked out of two junior high schools for fighting. "I was just rowdy," he says. "That was my mentality then."

Football was the perfect outlet for his aggressions, and he became a first-team all-state player at Taylorsville. College coaches liked his speed and agility, but worried about his size. At Utah, he teamed with strength coach Dwight Daub and the school cafeteria to add 60 pounds in two years and improve his bench press from 330 pounds to 445.

"When I go back home, some of my friends and old coaches who haven't seen me in a while don't recognize me," he says. "It takes them a minute."

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It's frightening to think that Scott, who majors in exercise sport science, hopes one day to open a corporate fitness business. Pass a Big Mac and do a pushup.

"My goal next year is to weigh 285 pounds, solid," says Scott.

Back to work. Recently, Scott took his girlfriend to the Olive Garden, and a simple meal turned into a two-hour exercise in chewing. Salad. Bread. Soup. Fettucini. Sausage manicotti. "It was cheap," he says. Two couples came and went at the next table in the time it took him to finish. No wonder Scott likes to cook for himself. His specialty: anything barbeque, with rice and potatoes.

"I got my little belly," says Scott, "but it keeps me warm at night." And it helps keep Utah's quarterbacks safe and happy.

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