Combine Prep

Since the NFL combine was last weekend, I ran across this article about athlete’s preparation for the combine and pro days. Pretty interesting

In Search Of An Edge
When tenths of a second can mean tens of thousands of dollars, combine prep becomes serious business
Peter King

ON A laptop spreadsheet at the NFL scouting combine last Saturday, nutritionist Amanda Carlson detailed Brian Leonard’s diet for an average day at the Athletes’ Performance facility in Tempe, Ariz., where Leonard, the fullback out of Rutgers, had spent the previous seven weeks. Large bowl of oatmeal and scrambled egg whites for breakfast, 533 calories. Turkey wrap and baked chips for lunch, 933 calories. Lean meat, beans and vegetables for dinner, 799 calories. Energy bar and fruit at night, 400 calories. Add two 24-ounce “recovery shakes” and two three-ounce “energy-shooters” around his two workouts, plus 110 ounces of water (one ounce per two pounds of body weight)–giving him a total daily intake of 4,388 calories–and eight hours of sleep, and you have Leonard’s precombine regimen.

Leonard, whose goal was to get faster and prove to NFL scouts he could be an every-down back, added 8.6 pounds of muscle in Tempe, decreasing his body fat from 12.1% to 9.6%. At Indianapolis he lowered his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.55, best among fullbacks at the RCA Dome, and led all backs with 28 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press. “This training and nutrition helped me prove that teams looking at me as just a blocking fullback won’t be getting the most out of me,” Leonard said on Saturday night, while standing in a hotel suite that had been converted into a two-floor spa for some of the company’s 60 combine clients.

On the first floor players grazed on a vast spread of healthy food, including turkey and tuna wraps, protein bars, raw vegetables and fresh fruit. Upstairs, speed coach Darryl Eto stretched Oklahoma State wideout D’Juan Woods on a massage table, prepping him for his 40-yard dash the next day. Leonard waited his turn for a rubdown.

This was not your father’s combine. With workout centers for college prospects in Arizona, California and, soon, northern Florida, Athletes’ Performance is one of several outfits capitalizing on the burgeoning industry of draft preparation. About 70% of the 350 players who performed for scouts and coaches in Indianapolis spend from two weeks to three months working with trainers, nutritionists, speed coaches and media coaches. Agents foot the bills–up to $15,000 per player–and with good reason: When a client moves up in the draft it means a richer contract. “There’s no telling how bad a combine I would have had if I hadn’t trained like this,” said Delaware tight end Ben Patrick, who ran the third-fastest time for a tight end last weekend. “It’s worth every penny.”

But not everyone believes that–not even one of the agents who unknowingly launched the craze. “A cottage industry has spun out of control, with kids dropping out of college and going to all these performance centers,” says that agent, Brad Blank, who in 1986 turned to Boston-based trainer Mike Boyle for help in improving the draft stock of Boston University wideout Bill Brooks. (Brooks was selected in the fourth round by the Colts and had a solid 11-year NFL career.) “We started this as sort of an SAT prep class for the combine. Now look at it.”

Twelve years ago only a handful of players trained so intensely for the combine. But in 1995 Mike Mamula, an undersized defensive end (6’5", 252) from Boston College hoping to be chosen on the first day of the draft, changed that. Another Blank client, Mamula worked out for six weeks with Boyle, who had this novel idea: Because the combine drills were known and didn’t change, a prospect could master the NFL tests by relentlessly practicing them. That’s what Mamula did. At the combine he bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times, the same number as the top tackle in the draft, Tony Boselli. His 4.63 in the 40 was faster than a top cornerback prospect, Jimmy Hitchcock. Wowed by the workout, the Eagles traded up in the first round to pick him seventh. That move paid off for Mamula but not for Philadelphia, which spent $15 million on him over six seasons and got 31 1/2 sacks in return. “I kick myself every year at this time that I didn’t think of investing in one of these centers,” says Mamula, now in private business, “because you can see how much money can be made preparing guys for the combine.”

How much have things changed? In the old days, a player might celebrate a great performance at the combine with a few beers. On Saturday night, when Patrick left the Athletes’ Performance suite, he carried a banana and bottle of water.