By Ryan Dunleavy | Originally Published on APP.com
MARTINSVILLE – The pain of falling on my face is nothing compared to the jolt from realizing that I still have tiny black turf pellets stuck to the fuzz on my cheek some 45 minutes after my failed 40-yard dash.
Thousands of freshly former college football players around the nation — including about a dozen from Rutgers — spend the first four months of every New Year training for a shot at the NFL, hoping to improve their measurables and impress a scout at the NFL Scouting Combine or their alma mater’s Pro Day.
They are young and fit. I need a way to jumpstart my wedding diet and lose 20 pounds in five months.
What could possibly go wrong by deciding to join three-year Rutgers starting safety Lorenzo Waters and 14 other prospects — some from LSU and Alabama — for a day of workouts at TEST Football Academy?
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Waters says, showing a touching level of concern for a Rutgers beat writer who undoubtedly publicly criticized his play at one point or another. “I don’t want to be responsible.”
The first sign of trouble comes before I even see the turf, which proves to be as ominous as it sounds.
“Are you a large or an extra-large?” asks TEST’s CEO Kevin Dunn, who wants me to swap out my 14-year-old Whippany Park High School track T-shirt for an Under Armour-brand shirt with a TEST logo.
“XL,” I reply, and catch the look on his face as he drops the shirt in his hand and goes to dig in storage.
Turns out my high school shirt was an appropriate choice. Stretching off to the side as to not intrude on serious preparation, I feel like an outcast looking for a lunch table — at least until I realize that these aren’t mean girls, somewhere between toe touches and putting a gigantic rubber band around my waist.
Maybe it’s a mutual respect. Maybe it’s a chance to even the player-media score — OK, it’s probably this, judging by the chorus of laughter when I suggest it — but I quickly feel welcomed. Even supported.
“When you are working with guys who all have a common goal,” Waters says, “it’s easy to get along.”
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The day is broken into two parts, two hours of skills and two hours of weight training, with a two-hour lunch break in between. My one day falls four weeks into the process for the prospects and they still are training to train, dissecting every individual arm, leg and head movement of a proper 40-yard dash.
A heart monitor — the latest technological advance at TEST — measures my every heartbeat and calorie burned. Protection against overdoing it, I think, acutely aware that I’m at 84 percent of my max heart rate during the 30-yard sled drive and in the 90s with a red-light warning more than a few times.
“We’ve never been able to accurately hold players accountable for every minute of every part of every workout,” Dunn says. “Now we can. It’s a great service we can offer agents.”
My “agent” just wanted me home in one piece for dinner, which was no gimme given the way that Geir Gudmundsen, TEST’s director of football operations and workout leader, pushed during the first hour.
“Use your upper body,” shouts Gudmundsen. “Stop feeling with your legs.”
Trust me, Geir. I’d do anything to stop feeling that burn.
Waters’ leadership shines as he pulls me aside to explain that lining up to run the ’40’ is a 10-step process. He rattles off commands like “turn your right foot at a 90-degree angle,” “squash the bug,” “arch your back,” and “walk back on your hands” — all football lingo and not me being punked, I trust.
I don’t remember it being this complicated when I ran a 60-yard dash during my last attempt at first-person journalism — a tryout for the Somerset Patriots minor-league baseball team … nine years ago.
A rally cry emerges. The acceleration phase of the dash is “where you make your money,” trainers say.