Every February, the NFL holds the spectacle known as the NFL Scouting Combine. Over 300 players join to test in multiple drills for the front offices and coaching staffs of the 32 NFL teams. Fans are allowed to see the 40-yard dash, bench press, positional drills and the other various workouts the players will go through. However, there is a part of the combine that fans don’t get to see.
The fans don’t get to see the rigorous training, medical exams, and change in lifestyle that these players will go through in the time leading up to this moment. The book, “Draft Season: Four Months On The Clock,” takes you into these aspects. Bobby Deren, author of the book, follows the lives of four players as they go through training at the TEST facilities in order to prepare for the scouting combine and their individual pro day workouts.
The book takes you into the very different backgrounds of Morgan Trent, Frantz Joseph, Kenny McKinley, and Lydon Murtha. Deren takes you back to their high school and recruiting days, through college and into their lives leading up to the 2009 NFL Draft.
The detail and attention to give a very different outlook to the world of football is what separates this book from others. It’s not your typical sports book. It takes you into a world you would otherwise never know about and it is because of that, this book is one of the best. Bobby Deren has done an outstanding job and I’d like to thank him for not only doing this interview with me, but for also giving me one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read.
|Brandon Williams: How did you get into writing?
Bobby Deren: I really did not start writing until I was in college. I was always creative, but it wasn’t until I really started delving into classical works as an English major that I fell in love with literature. That is when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to be a writer. I was kind of a late bloomer in that sense.
BW: I know you have other works. What brought upon the interest in covering sports?
BD: I have always had an interest in sports. I grew up playing sports and that even continued through college. I played junior college basketball and then transferred to another school to play football. I eventually gave up football in favor of devoting more time to my responsibilities as an English major. After college, my main goal was to write books. When the opportunity came way my to make a living writing sports, I jumped on it. I have enjoyed it from the start, but I was also always on the lookout for a good sports book to write. When the draft angle came up, it was a perfect opportunity.
BW: What originally interested you in the draft angle?
BD: I was out covering the NFL Combine and also wrote some stories on guys preparing for the NFL Draft. I also wrote some stories on players doing their pre-combine training at TEST Sports, a pre-combine training facility here in New Jersey. That year, Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Eric Foster of the Colts highlighted the group of players training at TEST. I was able to see firsthand the immensity of work that went into the season and it was really fascinating. I also noticed that no other book really explored the ins and outs of the draft season, so I decided to be the first.
BW: Your book “Draft Season: Four Months On The Clock” follows four players. How did you go about choosing Frantz, Morgan, Kenny and Lydon?
BD: There were thirty-two players training at TEST. I asked the owner, Brian Martin, about some of the guys and he filled me in on their backgrounds. I wanted to find players with different stories and guys who were interesting enough to keep readers’ attention for twenty-four chapters. Just because a guy plays football doesn’t mean his story is one everyone would want to hear. I really lucked out with the four guys I chose because they are all really interesting people and very easy to root for. They are all down to earth and there is more to them than just being a football player. That was an important aspect I wanted to touch upon.
BW: One of the players you followed (Frantz Joseph) came out of a small school. Do you think that players from non-BCS schools can get overlooked by NFL scouts?
BD: I don’t think they get overlooked in this day and age, but I do think it does drop some of them down a peg. Frantz transferred from Boston College to Florida Atlantic so that he could help take care of his mother back home. FAU never had a player drafted whereas BC has been a longtime pipeline to the NFL. I think that discrepancy affected Frantz during the draft.
BW: You also covered the various training the players go through in order to prepare for the combine and its very important 40-yard dash. What do you personally feel about the 40-yard dash? How useful is it?
BD: I think the value of the forty differs by position. For linemen and quarterbacks, the forty can be tossed out the window. However, for wide receivers, cornerbacks and even running backs, a good forty time can significantly boost a player’s stock.
BW: From when you started the book till now, how do you think the draft process, and the evaluation process leading up to it, has changed?
BD: I don’t think the evaluation process has changed, but I think the entire four month draft season is one giant evaluation, from the all-star games to the Combine to the Pro Days to the personal workouts. It is almost like an ongoing job interview that lasts four months.
BW: The amount of stock put into a player’s combine performance has increased dramatically. Is the increase justified, or overrated?
BD: Seeing it firsthand, I think the medical evaluations are what teams take most from the Combine. They are so intensive and so particular that every part of a player’s body and history are scrutinized with a fine-toothed comb. I don’t think the actual performances in the forty and such events are what teams covet most at the Combine. The player interviews also mean a lot to NFL teams at the Combine.
BW: What is the most interesting aspect of the draft in your eyes?
BD: The most interesting aspect of the draft, to me, is just the amount of work a player must do from the time he finishes his college career all the way through the NFL Draft. Preparing for the draft is like a full-time job and so much of that preparation dictates where a player will fall in the draft.
BW: Do you still keep in contact with the players you followed?
BD: I do, but some more than others.
BW: How have they changed from when you first met them? Going through the draft and their first seasons, what have been the changes in personality and level of confidence?
BD: My guys were pretty grounded from the start and that has enabled them to kind of retain a certain humility through the whole process.
BW: You got to see these players go through the entire process and got a different view that very little people get to see. What was the whole experience like for you?
BD: For me, it was an eye-opening experience in that these players go through so much from the time they were young just to make it to the NFL. It is not an easy road to travel. And the way they are treated makes me now pull for them when it comes to negotiating large contracts and things of that nature. The NFL treats these players like commodities, they are basically pieces of meat. I got a very cold feeling from the majority of NFL coaches and GM’s who I spoke with. The NFL is a business. The experience of writing the book has enabled me to see the NFL as a business more so than a game.
BW: How would you say your knowledge of the game and draft has increased after being involved in some of the more crucial moments of a player’s career?
BD: I wouldn’t say it increased my knowledge of the game, but it has increased my knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of the actual game.
BW: If I asked you, would you be able to give me your top player in this year’s draft at any position?
BD: No, because I haven’t followed the draft as closely this year. Last year, I was aware of every single thing that happened every day with just about every player in the draft because it may have affected my guys in a roundabout way. I was also writing a book on the draft so I needed to know everything that was going on. This year, I have been busy with interviews, book signings and the overall promotion of my book so that is where the bulk of my attention has been.
BW: If you were running a team, what position would you take first to build around and why?
BD: I would take the best player available because you can always build around talent. Talent can also be found up and down the draft so, to me, it makes sense to start with the best.
BW: Do you have any plans to do another book in the same mold as “Draft Season: Four Months On The Clock”?
BD: In making various appearances, I have spoken with numerous former NFL players and it has spawned the idea of doing a book about the post season, kind of what happens once a player finishes his career in the NFL. I have a few other possibilities on the table but that is one that has jumped into the mix.
BW: This last one isn’t really a question, I would just like to give you the opportunity to pitch your book in your own spoken word.
BD: When people take a first look at this book, many automatically assume it is just another football book. But I like to think of it as a human interest story in which football is simply a common denominator. It is more about the faces beneath the helmet and stories about four upstanding young men as opposed to four outstanding football players.
I would like to thank Bobby for this wonderful interview. As a huge football fan, draftnik, and aspiring writer myself, this was a huge honor for me. Bobby Deren is an outstanding writer and great person. I am definitely looking forward to more work from him. __________________
By Brandon Williams
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