He never had to give up the wings.
All offseason, Green Bay Packers running back James Starks followed a new, strict diet. Carbohydrates were off-limits. Protein shakes? Forget about it.
Still, the Niagara Falls High School and University at Buffalo product could continue eating chicken wings.
Starks lives 15 minutes from Buffalo. Just last month, a Buffalo Wild Wings opened in his hometown. In a glossy case, his No. 44 jersey hangs on the wall. Thankfully, he could attend.
"I can eat the wings," Starks said. "I just can't eat breaded foods, fried chicken; I just have to set back on that. I can still eat baked chicken."
For the first time in two years, Starks enters a football season fully healthy. A shoulder injury robbed him of his senior year at the University at Buffalo, and a hamstring injury sidelined Starks for 2 1/2 months of his rookie season with the Packers last year. He returned, led the NFL in postseason rushing and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl.
This offseason, Starks needed to ensure his health would not be an issue. Bad hamstrings shouldn't linger that long. Starks consulted a nutritionist, started a gluten-free diet and instantly began putting on weight.
For a 6-foot-2 back, that's good news. Starks is up to 225 pounds, eight more than last year. An ankle injury kept the Packers running back out of Friday's preseason game against Arizona, but he remains squarely in competition for the No. 1 job. His expectations are a tad different for this training camp than his first.
"They're a lot higher," Starks said. "I've seen everything now, having gone to the big show. I've played in some of the toughest games. I've been hit by some of the biggest players. My expectations are high now.
"I've gotten stronger. I want to lay some hits now."
The organization Starks visited, he said, is the same one wide receiver Terrell Owens consulted to rehabilitate quickly from a broken leg in December 2004. Owens rebounded in time to catch nine passes for 122 yards in the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl loss to New England that season.
Like Owens, Starks was tested in a hyperbaric chamber and learned how to recover best from injuries. A nutritionist advised him to start a gluten-free diet.
"I've been feasting off of carbs thinking it was good, but my body didn't react to it the right way," Starks said. "That played a big part in the healing process."
Starks put on the good kind of weight. Just ask family and friends. The lockout gave players everywhere a chance to spend time with friends. But Starks' crew rarely heard from him this offseason. He was too busy training at Absolute Performance in nearby Buffalo. After finishing last season with a bang, he's now thrust into a competition with Ryan Grant.
Training Monday through Saturday, Starks kept to himself.
"He pretty much just worked out all offseason," said Starks' brother, Sanquin. "He's focused. Especially right now, it's crunch time. Through the lockout, he wanted to make sure he was in shape. He's coming in big and fast. He was gone pretty much every day."
Running backs can be difficult to judge at practice with quick whistles, but Starks has impressed. He's running with a lower center of gravity and adding some nasty punctuation to his runs. At one recent practice, he popped safety Nick Collins instead of simply stepping out of bounds. And on another run, Starks steam-rolled safety Anthony Bratton.
Both Grant and Starks are supportive of each other. Rookie Alex Green and fullback John Kuhn also will be in the mix. In all likelihood, coach Mike McCarthy will simply ride the hot hand.
"We're competing with each other," Grant said earlier in camp. "Starks has done something I haven't done. I can definitely learn from him and he can learn from me. That's how I look at it."
Added Starks, "You have a lot of backs to do it with. So if somebody's not doing what they're supposed to, I'm sure [McCarthy] will be able to count on any one of us."
The mistakes he made as a rookie need to end, Starks admitted. After ripping San Francisco for 73 yards on 18 carries Dec. 5, Starks was phased out of the offense until the playoffs. A year ago, he was too antsy on cutbacks. He didn't sell counters. Starks said his "aiming point" was off -- the difference between 5 yards and 20 yards.
This new diet took some sacrifices. Starks quit his late-night snacks. No more pepper-jack cheese, no more pepperoni. He eats gluten-free bread and steers clear of dairy products.
All worth it. He's bigger, stronger and gunning for a larger role.
"No matter what happens," Starks said, "I'll be ready for my name to be called."