There are 125 teams at the highest level of NCAA football. Sprinkle in a couple late-bloomers who play ball at smaller schools, and there are dozens more NFL Draft prospects from places like Hofstra (Marques Colston, 7th round draft pick, 2006) or Bloomsburg (Jahri Evans, 4th round, 2006) who, once refined, turn into all-stars.
The NFL Scouting Combine was created in 1982 to give all these athletes a level playing field. The idea was for scouts to gather raw numbers on all of those players, performing under similar conditions, in a single location. Consequently, Combine training was born as well, as players used to performing on the field suddenly had to run 40 yards, pump out bench press reps (at 225 pounds), jump as high and as far as they could, and shuffle through cones – all under the watchful eyes of NFL talent evaluators. But the poking and prodding doesn’t end there. At least a month of group (“Pro Days” on college campuses) and individual workouts (at NFL facilities) follow, as players had a second chance to confirm their numbers or improve upon them.
While these drills don’t perfectly predict a player’s aptitude for pro football, preparing for and performing them well is a huge part of the entry cost if they want to get a shot at playing on Sundays. Here’s how five NFL prospects got ready for the draft on the field and in the weight room.
Will Jackson, Offensive Lineman, Georgia Tech
When is an offensive lineman going to have to provide 25 consecutive forearm shivers to his challenger on the defensive side of the ball? Never. But bench press repetitions at 225 pounds are one way potential athletes are measured by NFL.
And since he wants to play in the big league, Georgia Tech offensive lineman Will Jackson spent the winter after his senior season practicing the bench press at a weight 100 pounds less than his usual routine. With a crew of fellow NFL prospects at the GATA center north of Atlanta, Jackson "just jumped right into it," and registered 16 or 17 reps in his first try. After a few weeks of sustained endurance training, he was able to reach 23 reps.
"For us it was all about training for endurance," says Jackson, who started 42 games at either left guard or left tackle for the Yellowjackets the last four seasons. "A lot of high reps, a lot of bench pressing 225. It's a little different training because we're used to higher weight, lower reps."
Working to stay off the bench in the NFL, Jackson got used to two days a week of focused chest work. The routine consisted of 225 pounds for 15 reps as a starting point, progressed to 250 pounds for 12 reps, but never got any higher.
"The tests are what they are," Jackson says. "But until they change, guys are going to have to prepare for them. There are probably drills out there that simulate football conditions a little better."
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