A Massachusetts vegan and Connecticut football player are among the final 16 "hottest male vegetarians in the land," according to an online contest sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Aaron Meredith had to gain 20 pounds after deciding to join the Connecticut Thunder football team a year ago — and he did it on his new vegetarian diet.

The Montville, Conn., resident, who plays strong safety on the team, did it by eating a combination of dairy, protein supplements, beans and protein-rich vegetables.

Now Meredith is one of 16 male finalists in the Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door contest, sponsored by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). He entered the contest on the last day of registration after his wife, Bonnie, urged him to participate.

The 2000 graduate of Montville High School is one of 32 finalists — 16 male and 16 female — chosen from more than 1,000 entries, according to PETA.

Also in the final 16 male competition is Matthew (no last name given), a 23-year-old vegan from Brookline.

"Matthew's Italian grandmother goes out of her way to make sure there are vegan options at holiday dinners, including chocolate cake and chocolate gnocchi," according to the PETA site.

Meredith said his wife inspired him to become a vegetarian after showing him DVDs of animal treatment in the factory farming industry. Meredith, who resisted watching the videos at first, said he immediately stopped eating meat after he saw the way cows and chickens were raised in farms.

“You really can’t support the factory farming industry when you see some of the things these animals go through,” Meredith said. “There’s no humane way to raise thousands of cattle and thousands of chickens when they’re going to be shipped off to (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and McDonald’s.”

Meredith, who eventually hopes to become vegan (a vegetarian who does not eat any animal products), owns a kettle corn business and works part-time as a server at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar at Mohegan Sun. He said he convinced one of the chefs at Michael’s Jordan’s to become a vegetarian — but he hasn’t had the same success with his family.

“They have yet to watch (the DVDs),” Meredith said. “I think they’re kind of in denial, just like I was.”

Reach Marisa Maldonado at 425-4255 or mmaldonado@norwichbulletin.com

HOW TO VOTE To vote in PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door contest, go to www.goveg.com. Voting ends Feb. 29, and the winners will be announced by March 17. The winners — one male and one female — will win a trip for two to Hawaii.