With COVID-19, NFL Draft prospects left to bedroom workouts and basement gyms

Kristian Dyer

With COVID-19 shutting down public places, NFL Draft prospects are left in an unusual predicament. At a time when most would be training for private workouts with teams or conditioning for rookie minicamps, the shutdown has affected how these athletes go about staying in shape just weeks away from reporting to their new professional teams. 

The ramifications of social distancing has a trickledown effect for these professional prospects. A leap from college football to the NFL is already steep. Now with social distancing, athletes and agents are left to scramble. 

No access to workout facilities at their colleges. Combine training facilities, which specialize in crash course training of college players to ready them for the NFL Combine and Pro Day workouts, are all shuttered. Even private gyms are closed. 

It is a monkey wrench in the best laid plans for many of these college athletes, who are now inside a month from the NFL Draft, a time that will realize their dreams and determine their fortunes. 

The time between when athletes leave college in late December or early in the new year to prepare for NFL talent evaluators is meticulously laid out to peak come the Combine or Pro Day. Intricate training on the nuances of running the 40 or how to squeeze out another rep or two on the 225-pound bench press is a part of the daily workout schedule for these NFL hopefuls. There is even psychological training and interview prep to get ready for team meetings. 

Now with the country in lockdown for the past three weeks, there are no gyms to train at. No decadent college facilities to utilize. Even public parks in many states are closed. All the places where a future NFL player could workout are essentially closed. 

It all means that athletes, some of whom are on the verge of becoming millionaires, are now left to work out on their own. Or with their dog, as is the case with Colorado quarterback Steven Montez.

Temple offensive lineman Matt Hennessy, coming off a solid NFL Combine, is fortunate as he has access to a place with weights where he can workout. His old college strength coach, who is now at the University of Miami, put together a workout plan for him to follow. 

"I had originally planned on training at Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J.," Hennessy said. "It closed in early March but luckily one of my childhood friends in Clarkstown, N.Y. has a home gym that has just about everything I need."

Not everyone has a place where they can workout. For some like Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, that means forgoing a gym or a facility and trying to be creative. 

He works out in his garage or his bedroom. 

”Normally I just go to a training facility and get worked out by my trainer, but now this is all me,” Ruiz told SportsIllustrated.com. 

“I was given a training program from my trainers at Exos who trained me for the Combine.” 

Ruiz’s workouts make use of what is available to him. Every morning he goes for a mile run and in the afternoon he does some variation of a body weight workout that lasts roughly an hour. 

It isn’t what he had imagined this time a year ago. Still, it is something. 

Everything is different for these prospects, including team meetings. Because of social distancing, NFL teams are not allowed to host prospects at their facility for formal visits and interviews. These are now being done via video conferencing. 

The interviews are still similar but teams are now not allowed to work out players in-person like in previous year, something that is of value to organizations. 

For Ruiz, that means his bedroom right now has become a multi-purpose room of sorts. 

“Yeah basically everything takes place right there in that room,” Ruiz said. 

“Workouts, interviews - you name it.” 

At the end of the day, it seems a bit like a blessing in disguise for some of these athletes. If they remain accountable and focused, they believe that they will be in better shape than under the old calendar when it comes time to report. Rookie minicamps take place a week or two after the conclusion of the draft. 

After their Pro Day, which usually takes place at some point in March, most top prospects have a hectic schedule, including the aforementioned visits at team facilities. It makes for a bit of an awkward and surreal dynamic for teams so used to a certain protocol for examining players and building their draft board. Now, the old way is out the door and teams are grappling with the new reality presented by this year’s unique challenges. 

There is a silver lining for players like Ruiz as the fallout of coronavirus also means no travel. 

This is a positive, notes Ruiz, because he likely wouldn’t be working out as much if he was flying to different facilities for formal meetings. 

“Pretty awesome,” Hennessy said. “With no in-person workouts, we're able to start getting ready for off-season activities and turn up the volume and intensity a lot.”