University of Wisconsin strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert takes photos of all of the players when they arrive on campus.

Those are the "before" shots, to be referenced as players begin to re-shape their bodies in the weight room.

Most of those pictures are of scrawny, shirtless kids, who are transformed into muscular, burly men.

Then there's 6-foot-8 Rob Havenstein, the third-year sophomore right tackle who showed up at UW weighing 380 pounds.

Herbert recently showed Havenstein (pronounced HAY-ven-stine) his old photo.

"I was like, 'Wow, I looked like that?'" Havenstein said with a pained expression.

"It was just shocking, I was obviously overweight and did not look like an athlete at all. I was just a big kid."

Former UW offensive lineman Jake Current expressed the popular opinion on the team when Havenstein showed up from Mount Airy, Md.

"The first time I came in, he was like, 'Holy heck, that's the biggest kid I've ever seen. He is never going to make it,'" Havenstein said.

Havenstein not only survived the early days, he is the projected starter at right tackle, now weighing 343 pounds.

Despite missing spring practices following shoulder surgery, he set personal bests over the summer in the squat and power clean.

Even in a sport dominated by large men, Havenstein stands out. Ben Strickland, who coaches the defensive backs, came up to him at a recent training table and said, "You know what Robbie? You are one massive man on film."

"I was like, 'You know what? I kind of am,'" Havenstein said.

He also played basketball and lacrosse in high school and offensive line coach Mike Markuson marvels at Havenstein's quick feet for his size.

"Big men are hard to find, especially ones who can move like he can," Markuson said. "Search the world to find 'em."

Questions about Havenstein's weight and size dominate most of hia media interviews.

Yet, there's so much more to know about him than his size. Case in point: He has been growing his hair out for almost two years. He talked defensive tackle Beau Allen and defensive back Jerry Ponio into doing it, too.

Cheryl Havenstein, who is Rob's mom, is an 11-year breast cancer survivor. After the season, the three players will cut their hair and donate it to Locks of Love, which provides hairpieces for children with medical conditions.

"It's just the kind of guy he is," Cheryl Havenstein said. "Hopefully, I've taught him a lot of good things along the way. I was more elated than surprised."

Rob was going into fourth grade when his mom, a teacher, was diagnosed. She had the choice to set up her chemo schedule so she would be sick on weekends, but feel good enough to work on Mondays. Instead, she took off the first half of the school year, wanting to feel better on the weekends for her three kids.

"My kids were so young, I wanted to make sure I was there for them," Cheryl said.

Rob didn't realize the significance of his mom's diagnosis at first. But a year later, he attended a Relay For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

The event begins with a survivor's walk, usually around a track at a local school. The track is lined with luminaries, which are lit candles, inside white bags, featuring the names of cancer survivors and those who have died from the disease, with messages from loved ones.

"It was an astonishing experience," Havenstein said. "You looked at all of the bags and it was survivor, deceased, deceased, deceased. It kind of hit me, I could have lost my mom. I don't know what I'd do (without her)."

Everybody in Rob's family is big. His dad, Gary, is 6-6. Rob has a twin brother, Jeff, who is 6-8 and plays Division I basketball at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. A sister, Holly, is 6-2, two years older and just graduated from Colgate, where she played four years of basketball.

Cheryl is about 6-1, though Rob teased, "She likes to say she's 5-13."

Rob talks easily about his size now, but used to cringe when the family walked in a restaurant.

"People would always stare at us," Cheryl said. "It was always Rob that would say, 'Mom, make them stop.' I said, 'Honey, they're just admiring our height. They wish they were as tall.'"

Cheryl taught special education and Rob donated his time for Special Olympics and special needs kids, who adored him.

"He's very caring, super sensitive," Cheryl said. "What I really admire about him, he just got along with all different groups of people. He's kind of a born leader."

When Rob visited UW, his mom knew right away it was the perfect place for him.

"We went and visited all these (other) schools," she said. "Once we got (to UW), I kept looking out on the field, 'Where is he? I can't find him.' Usually he stands out in a crowd. He just felt very comfortable at Wisconsin."

Rob's elated to have his mom along for the journey. She has always been a healthy eater and some of that has rubbed off on him, too.

Everything about Rob seems outsized, including expectations.

"I'm quite larger than most people, so people expect me to (dominate) and I expect myself to," he said. "My size does help me out but it does throw some negatives in there, I have to stay lower ... but I really do enjoy the challenge."

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(1) comment


Look at all the running backs that got the glory at UW but fizzled in the NFL. We know the secret. It's guys like Havenstein.

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