With college football officially in the rearview mirror and the all-star games behind you, focus shifts quickly for NFL hopefuls as training for the biggest interview of their lives commences.
After all, the NFL Scouting Combine is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one that can creep up quickly after being buried in the process.
The science of preparing for the combine has evolved tremendously since 2005, which was when I was gearing up for the rigorous weekend of torture, boredom and opportunity in the frigid city known as Indianapolis.
These days, million-dollar facilities, top-notch equipment and staffing are utilized for complete optimization of the training process—sparing no expense to shave one-tenth of a second off of a 40 time.
Nonetheless, the work put in to prepare for a life in professional football is herculean when taken as a whole.
It’s important to realize that, as these athletes begin training for the combine, they do so with the accumulative aches and pains of an entire season recently concluded, still weighing on their beaten bodies.
For me, personally, this was a difficult element with which to contend. But as every NFL hopeful knows—the chance to show the entire league what you can do in one place doesn’t just wait around while you go on a holiday.
The good news is that the bumps and bruises from the season do eventually melt away as you get more immersed into your training regimen and further removed from all of the banging.
One of the first things that happens, before any training, is your agent sets you up with a training facility, and it's customary for that agent to front the cash for all training and living expenses leading up to the draft. This is not a gift from the agent, but it is viewed more as a loan (at least a partial one) paid back if you happen to receive a signing bonus.
This is one of the risks an agent must take when signing on with guys who are not guaranteed to make active rosters.
After meeting my trainer and the other prospects with whom I’m going to be training, we are set up with a nutritionist tasked with putting each of us on an individual diet plan. Mine was geared toward cutting out sugar and grease in my diet. To be honest, this was not something I was very excited about, but it comes with the job.
For field work, we used a field that had great turf down in Long Beach, Calif. The weather was ideal, and it was a group of about seven of us all ready to get in the best shape of our lives. Our personal trainer was a former defensive back in the NFL and was relatively new at this combine-training process.
I could tell from the first day we started this style of weight lifting that it was completely unfamiliar to me. No longer was I training to strengthen my core and muscles that really matter on a football field. Now I was training to be tested at the combine.
The lifting was incredibly intense and involved burning out the muscles with high reps that induced excruciating pain.
At this point in my football career, I was only about two years into a real weight-training program, so intense lifting was still somewhat new for me—especially the exhaustive format this trainer had us on.
On the field, we worked on everything that would be tested at the combine, from position-specific drills to 40 times.
Those workouts were also intense but nothing like the pain from extreme muscle fatigue in the weight room.
I should mention that during the entire training process, I was dealing with a nagging hamstring injury where the top part of my muscle was essentially torn right where it connects to the ischium, otherwise known as the bone near the lower region of the buttocks.
Needless to say, this setback was making the entire training process more difficult.
About two or three times per week, after training, I would stop by a chiropractor’s office to get the hamstring worked on. The entire upper part of my back was loaded up with scar tissue, which was making it incredibly difficult for me to reach my maximum explosion.
When training for the combine, speed coaches essentially teach you an entirely new way to run. Who would have thought there’s so much form and technique into running with ideal efficiency?
A normal week of combine training consists of about four to five hours of lifting and fieldwork five days per week.
In addition to the training, I was given a loan of $12,000, which was nice considering I had never had that much money at one time in my entire life. Rest assured, I did not spend the money on anything frivolous.
In between the hours spent on the field or in the weight room, we also designated time for interview prep as well as practicing samples of the Wonderlic test (the NFL’s version of the IQ test). After trying a couple sample tests and learning the trick to never linger on questions you don’t know, I had the Wonderlic pretty much under control.
The interview prep was done with my agents, and they really didn’t spend much time with me in that department. I think they felt I had that portion well under control and would be able to present myself in an impressive and appropriate manner without much help from them.
However, it would have been nice to receive more guidance in that area, if for no other reason than pure curiosity. Apparently I could have used some more prep, since when I sat down with a scout from the Pittsburgh Steelers, he made a point to remark on how uptight I seemed.
It was true. There was something about the way that guy asked questions that really made me nervous. It was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to being interrogated for a murder. I was always pretty proud of the way I prepared for games, but this scout made me feel like a complete and utter slacker.
I also wasn’t really prepared to answer questions about my teammates. Rather than just asking a prospect personally about their drug history, they actually asked me about my teammates at Cal, which is quite the dilemma in which to be put—especially when unprepared for that line of questioning.
I did my best to not damage anyone’s chances at an NFL career but could have easily damaged my own in the process.
Training for the combine requires a unique focus unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and it can be incredibly grueling both mentally and physically.
Having this event come in the wake of a full season along with all-star games only adds to the difficulties of the process. As a result, rookies entering the NFL really having no formal offseason or much time to recover in between.
I personally believe this is one of the primary causes for the infamous “rookie wall” that we hear so much about. Think about it—with all that’s being thrust onto these poor rookies’ plates, coupled with the entire transition process from college to the pros, it’s no wonder these kids break down midway through the season.
With all that said, this is indeed a necessary evil designed to weed out the weak and to aid scouts, general managers and coaches in the process of evaluating talent.
Every year, millions of dollars are both earned and/or lost in the final weeks of February. Preparation for this monumental event is paramount. Indianapolis is where hundreds of NFL careers really begin—and in some cases, end.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and writes for Bleacher Report
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