Not every graduating senior or early NFL draft entry is gifted enough to be a solid first-round projection. With 3,000-plus former college players vying to be one of April's 224 draft selections, it's hard enough to be drafted at all, much less in the first round of the most analyzed amateur draft in all of professional sports.
Postseason events such as the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the Players All-Star Classic give graduating seniors a chance to set themselves apart in front of the discerning eyes of NFL scouts, draft analysts and experts.
While those games and the pre-game workouts generate plenty of scouting buzz, February's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is the scouting mecca for all things pre-draft. The invitation-only event features over 300 of the top NFL prospects for the upcoming draft.
A player's draft stock can hold steady, skyrocket or bottom-out based on his performance at the combine. While it's not the be-all-end-all for the top-tier prospects, the combine is potentially a make-or-break opportunity for more than half the athletes participating in the workouts.
For prospects in the mid-to-late round projected range, the difference between being drafted in the fourth or the seventh round could literally be just a few hundredths of a second on a stopwatch.
The monetary difference between the two is represented in zeroes, rather than seconds.
However, for those athletes on the fringe, there is hope for improvement. Across the nation there are scores of training facilities where everyone from first-round locks to fourth-round hopefuls hone their craft before the biggest job interview of their lives at the combine.
One such facility is the TEST Football Academy Powered By Parisi Speed School. With locations in New Jersey and South Florida, TEST/Parisi Football bills itself as "The Choice of the Pros."
TEST founder and CEO Brian Martin considers his company "a one-stop shop for the medical, physical, mental" preparation needed to make sure the athletes under his tutelage "ace the test."
Martin, a former college football player himself, takes pride in the quality of athlete he recruits and the solid NFL prospects TEST/Parisi turns out on a yearly basis.
TEST's NFL combine program consists of eight weeks of intense training. Football players willing to spend 40-50 hours a week for two months improving their skills are exactly the kind of athletes Martin wants at TEST/Parisi.
"If you’re not ready to work, don’t come to us," Martin said in a recent interview.
Martin continued, "It’s a do or die attitude for the guys who are in the lower half of the draft or not on the draft board. They know they need to hit perfect times in order to be considered by a team."
Martin knows exactly what he's talking about too.
One of Martin's success stories is Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
The former Temple defensive lineman came to TEST before the 2009 NFL combine as a 340-pound, seventh-round prospect. Knighton left TEST at 318 pounds, ran a 4.92 40-yard dash at his pro day and was selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Martin also worked with eventual top-10 pick Patrick Peterson before last year's combine.
"Patrick always brought the intensity. Your typical first rounder is not as locked-in as he was," Martin said. "Your typical first rounder knows he’s a first rounder and doesn't work as hard."
Still, Martin admits that there's one aspect of each prospect's game that is pivotal for success at getting to the next level. "Our philosophy is that speed is everything," Martin said.
He continued, "When it comes to the combine you gotta be as fast as possible—not only in the 40-yard dash but in every drill and skill. At the end of the day our process is to make each athlete as fast as possible."
TEST/Parisi is accomplishing that by utilizing the expertise of world-class sprinter Ato Bolden in its training program. Martin said, "Ato is the best sprint mechanics guy in the world." Three to four days a week, the four-time Olympic medalist helps prospects shave time off their 40 by coaching the proper methods of sprinting.
Of the 60 prospects on the TEST/Parisi roster, only about 15 were invited the NFL Combine. But for Martin and TEST/Parisi, it's always been more about quality rather than quantity.
"We tend to get the grinders. We get good kids. We don't get kids who are polluted early," Martin explained.
When it comes to training for the NFL combine, preparation is key for every athlete. The training provided to these former student-athletes by TEST/Parisi, and others like it, between the end of their college career and the NFL draft has become an essential part of that preparation.
(All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted)