IRVING -- Montrae Holland didn't have to be told his NFL career was at risk. The veteran offensive guard figured that much when he got cut by the Dallas Cowboys in September.
What he was really worried about was his life. In his time away from the team, it started sinking in that his own health was at risk, too.
He faced facts: He was overweight, and not only had it cost him his spot with the Cowboys, it could threaten his future with his children, a 7-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old.
"That's an eye-opener, you know?" the 33-year-old, nine-year veteran said. "I want to be around for my kids, mainly. They're my main motivation."
Out of a job, Holland got himself to former NFL center LeCharles Bentley's offensive lineman academy in Ohio, lost 10 pounds, and was ready when the Cowboys -- fresh off losing rookie guard Bill Nagy to a broken ankle -- called, seeing if he'd come to a workout.
Holland blew them away. He was in shape, quick, and remembered everything.
Before anyone knew it, he was in the starting lineup at left guard for the game against the St. Louis Rams, and the Cowboys rushed for 294 yards in a 34-7 victory Sunday.
He got a game ball and another week in the lineup.
"I particularly had my eyes on him during the game," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the game. "Unbelievable that he could come in and play, and play the entire game, and he did. He made some outstanding blocks on some key plays. Montrae kind of had my game ball there a little bit today."
Holland reported to camp in San Antonio at about 340 pounds, but with a starting job. The Cowboys had released Leonard Davis, so right guard belonged to Holland.
But a week in, he had a hamstring injury. The Cowboys also said he had a back problem. Whatever it was, it sidelined him until the last preseason game. He played, but by then, the Cowboys had made their plans. They had already moved left guard Kyle Kosier to right guard and plugged in Nagy at left guard.
Holland, whom the Cowboys acquired in a trade with Denver in 2008 and had played in 89 games in the NFL, was on the street.
"That was the first time I'd ever been put in that situation, to where I wasn't playing, wasn't on a roster," he said. "It was scary. It's not a place any player wants to be."
The realization, and the time at Bentley's camp, made Holland change his approach to diet, exercise and his career.
He avoided sugars and alcohol. He ate baked chicken and turkey. Vegetables. No fruits.
A dietitian prepared meals, but that was only for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, Bentley's clients were on their own. Holland had to show personal discipline.
"That's the big test for a lot of players -- what do you do when I'm not around?" said Bentley, who started his lineman academy four years ago. "Are you going to sneak a Snickers bar? Are you going to sneak out to The Cheesecake Factory? He didn't do it. He did everything he was supposed to do, and then some."
Holland confessed: The camp wasn't easy. But neither was thinking about a future without football. Or no future at all.
"As the weeks passed by, you start to wonder, is it over?" he said. "But I tried to stay positive and keep working hard every day. You never know what could happen. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel."
Holland's personal commitment impressed the Cowboys as much as his play last week.
"I'm very impressed with him as an individual on what he did," offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. "When he came back, he looked like a different guy."
That was the plan.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760