When he reported to training camp shortly after dawn on Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman walked into One Buc Place carrying, among other things, a big green juicy apple.
A year ago, Freeman's choice for a between-meals snack – or even a meal itself – was often fast food of some type. And therein lays the biggest difference so far in the Freeman of 2012 and the Freeman of 2011.
Prodded by no one, Freeman has undergone a dramatic lifestyle change. More specifically, he has drastically altered his eating habits. The results are obvious.
Freeman weighed in for the start of camp at 237 pounds, 20 pounds less than a year ago, and with a chiseled physique.
"Josh looks great,'' general manager Mark Dominik said. "He looks like a completely different player, and I really think this speaks to how much he understands what's expected of him.
"He's still only 24 years old, so he is still a young quarterback, but he's going into his fourth year now and I think he gets it that you have to be in the right type of shape to be successful. You look at the (quarterbacks) who have had long-term success, and it's the guy's whose bodies have stayed together. It's guys like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, guys who worked at keeping themselves in great shape.''
Manning and Favre didn't stick around only because their bodies allowed them to. They also consistently completed a majority of their passes and threw more touchdowns than interceptions.
Freeman has yet to develop all those traits. In two seasons as the Tampa Bay starter, Freeman has consistently completed more than 61 percent of his passes, but his touchdown throws dropped from 25 to 16 last season while his interceptions rose from six to 22.
Freeman's decision making at the training table won't matter much if he can't make better decisions with the ball in his hands on Sunday. He thinks, though, he now has the tools to do that on a more regular basis.
"There's a lot to be learned about (the dangers) of stepping outside of the system and trying to make too many plays,'' Freeman said. "(Quarterbacks) try to do (too many things) sometimes when, in actuality; the offense is going to get you there. You just have to man the ship.
"So, now, going into my fourth year. that's what I've got to do. I just have to keep finding ways, whether it's in my preparation or my footwork or the way I throw the ball, to constantly improve.''
The change in diet is one way Freeman has found to improve. He settled on it, he said, after a long talk at the end of last season with former Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
They discussed mechanics as well, but a large part of their conversation centered on the need for Freeman to mature more as an individual, a professional and the leader of his football team.
"We talked about ways to be your best, and so I wanted to take a step and be excellent with my diet and start working out year-round, and that was really where it started,'' Freeman said. "It was really just a few simple changes.''
The changes included some alternative training methods, such as playing soccer two or three times a week and doing exercises designed to strengthen Freeman's core, shoulders and legs.
The dietary changes, meanwhile, called for Freeman to all but eliminate fast foods, a favorite of his, and replace them with them regular intakes of fruit, vegetables and proteins such as chicken.
The changes might not have been as drastic as they are, though, were it not for Grant Gregory, a former USF and Kansas State quarterback turned personal trainer who Freeman describes as "that guy you see carrying Tupperware everywhere.''
An old acquaintance of Freeman's, Gregory said he simply took Freeman shopping one day and showed him the right foods to buy and how to prepare them, but he had another small role in the process as well.
"I just had to give him a little kick in the butt to get him going,'' said Gregory, who works at the Harbor Island Athletic Club. "Josh is a smart guy. He could have figured it all out on his own.''
That Freeman chose to make changes on his own pleased Dominik, who sees this as another step in his maturation process. He's eager to see where that step leads.
"What Josh has done here is exciting,'' Dominik said. "But now he has to translate that to the football field, so we all have to watch and see how that works out. We just have to sit back and watch.''