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Former New Orleans Saints center Max Unger has high regard for Erik McCoy

McCoy started every game at center as a rookie

Our series Hometown Saints continues with a look at New Orleans Saints center Max Unger's family and his hometown of Hookena, Hawaii.

Photos by Marco Garcia

If Max Unger hadn't retired last offseason, he's pretty sure he'd have walked away this offseason.

The New Orleans Saints' former center (2015-18) said his regular-season readiness heavily was predicated on offseason workouts with and against teammates, that he absolutely needed the OTAs and minicamps in order to ready himself for the season.

No work with teammates, and no weightlifting and conditioning at the facility, would've been enough for Unger to remove himself from the equation, because he didn't feel he could replicate his regimen well enough alone to show up at training camp and be ready for the season.

But, maybe, Unger undersells himself.

After all, having the discipline to drop 60 to 65 pounds in his first year of retirement – he said he weighs around 240 now – speaks to how intensely and how willing he is to work.

"It's a pretty good deal," Unger said Monday, during a video conference with local media. "It's a little overrated. I'm still waiting to have a little bit more energy and feel good, but I think I'm on the right track.

"It was a good thing to focus on right out of the gate. It's another thing to obsess over and it's kind of an easy transition. You spend so much time in the NFL taking care of your body and doing treatment, you just kind of transition right into a hardcore diet. And if you do it right away, it hasn't been too bad."

Retirement appears to agree with Unger, who said he has no regrets. He earned a Pro Bowl invitation in his final season, which ended with New Orleans losing to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

Since, the 34-year-old primarily has been at home in Hawaii.

"I retired after the NFC Championship Game in 2019," he said. "Moved back to Hawaii. My family and I did spend a little of time on the mainland right after retirement, stuck around in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and them moved back here. And I've just been kind of helping my dad on our ranch in Hawaii every once in a while.

"Other than that, just kind of recovering. It's been an interesting break from football."

While Unger's retirement was a bit of a surprise to many, it didn't totally catch the Saints off guard. He'd shared the possibility with the front office; the Saints responded in the offseason by signing free agent Nick Easton, and drafting Erik McCoy with their first pick in 2019, in the second round. McCoy started every game at center as a rookie.

"The guy came in there and just played his butt off," Unger said of McCoy. "It was impressive. He started every game at center. That's hard to do, especially in this offense, Drew (Brees) coming into the huddle and calling the plays at about 100 miles an hour. I think a lot of people have a lot of high expectations for him, and really that whole group."

Much the same as expectations were high when Unger was a Saint, and would have remained if he'd returned another season. But, Unger said, it was time.

"You start playing offensive line in the NFL past the age of 30, it's going to be tough," he said. "Toward the end of my career, it was time to call it quits. It felt like my body was almost at the end of being able to do it, so it felt like it was time.

"But I'm feeling better. I think that it's just a lot of maintenance and the more you move around, I think the better you feel. The hard thing is doing stuff that you're not used to. You're used to lifting such heavy weights and conditioning for so long, and really football-specific stuff, and as soon as you get out of that you get humbled pretty quickly. I tell you what: If you go for a jog for five minutes, crushes you. Much harder than 9-on-7 in training camp."

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