In Search of an Edge

When tenths of a second can mean tens of thousands of dollars, combine prep becomes serious business
March 05, 2007

ON A laptopspreadsheet at the NFL scouting combine last Saturday, nutritionist AmandaCarlson detailed Brian Leonard's diet for an average day at the Athletes'Performance facility in Tempe, Ariz., where Leonard, the fullback out ofRutgers, had spent the previous seven weeks. Large bowl of oatmeal andscrambled egg whites for breakfast, 533 calories. Turkey wrap and baked chipsfor lunch, 933 calories. Lean meat, beans and vegetables for dinner, 799calories. Energy bar and fruit at night, 400 calories. Add two 24-ounce"recovery shakes" and two three-ounce "energy-shooters" aroundhis two workouts, plus 110 ounces of water (one ounce per two pounds of bodyweight)--giving him a total daily intake of 4,388 calories--and eight hours ofsleep, and you have Leonard's precombine regimen.

Leonard, whosegoal 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% to9.6%. At Indianapolis he lowered his time in the 40-yard dash to 4.55, bestamong fullbacks at the RCA Dome, and led all backs with 28 repetitions in the225-pound bench press. "This training and nutrition helped me prove thatteams looking at me as just a blocking fullback won't be getting the most outof me," Leonard said on Saturday night, while standing in a hotel suitethat had been converted into a two-floor spa for some of the company's 60combine clients.

On the firstfloor players grazed on a vast spread of healthy food, including turkey andtuna wraps, protein bars, raw vegetables and fresh fruit. Upstairs, speed coachDarryl 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 arubdown.

This was not yourfather's combine. With workout centers for college prospects in Arizona,California and, soon, northern Florida, Athletes' Performance is one of severaloutfits capitalizing on the burgeoning industry of draft preparation. About 70%of the 350 players who performed for scouts and coaches in Indianapolis spendfrom two weeks to three months working with trainers, nutritionists, speedcoaches and media coaches. Agents foot the bills--up to $15,000 per player--andwith good reason: When a client moves up in the draft it means a richercontract. "There's no telling how bad a combine I would have had if Ihadn't trained like this," said Delaware tight end Ben Patrick, who ran thethird-fastest time for a tight end last weekend. "It's worth everypenny."

But not everyonebelieves that--not even one of the agents who unknowingly launched the craze."A cottage industry has spun out of control, with kids dropping out ofcollege and going to all these performance centers," says that agent, BradBlank, who in 1986 turned to Boston-based trainer Mike Boyle for help inimproving the draft stock of Boston University wideout Bill Brooks. (Brooks wasselected 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 atit."

Twelve years agoonly a handful of players trained so intensely for the combine. But in 1995Mike Mamula, an undersized defensive end (6'5", 252) from Boston Collegehoping to be chosen on the first day of the draft, changed that. Another Blankclient, 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 couldmaster 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 toptackle in the draft, Tony Boselli. His 4.63 in the 40 was faster than a topcornerback prospect, Jimmy Hitchcock. Wowed by the workout, the Eagles tradedup in the first round to pick him seventh. That move paid off for Mamula butnot for Philadelphia, which spent $15 million on him over six seasons and got31 1/2 sacks in return. "I kick myself every year at this time that Ididn't think of investing in one of these centers," says Mamula, now inprivate business, "because you can see how much money can be made preparingguys for the combine."

How much havethings changed? In the old days, a player might celebrate a great performanceat the combine with a few beers. On Saturday night, when Patrick left theAthletes' Performance suite, he carried a banana and bottle of water.

PHOTOTODD ROSENBERG SPEEDY PAYOFF Leonard worked out for seven weeks in Arizona to add muscle and drop fat, then clocked the fastest time of any fullback in Indianapolis.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)