Marcus Mariota. Jameis Winston. Stephen Fiorentine?
Somehow, someway, I was one of the lucky few invited to take part in the annual NFL Combine in Indy.
Each February, the NFL invites roughly 335 draft hopefuls to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in hopes of being wowed by their physical abilities, which can go a long way in deciding the prospects’ fate come draft day. Take for example the University of Connecticut’s Byron Jones whose broad jump of 12 feet, three inches caught not only the attention of scouts across the league but also that of USA Track and Field, not to mention the entire Internet, as well. It’s safe to say that the footage of my test results won’t be immortalized on Twitter, Instagram or Vine anytime soon, but it was a rewarding experience in Indy, nonetheless.
So you’re probably wondering how I made it to Indy in the first place, right? For the sake of full disclosure, I am not an NFL Draft prospect. In fact, I am far from it. The reason I found myself running the same test on the same stage in which Chris Johnson and Rondel Melendez once recorded a mind-boggling 4.24 seconds was to tryout Under Armour’s latest football cleat, the SpeedForm MC. Heralded as the “fastest” innovation in footwear, it’s exactly what I would need to ensure I’d run the fastest 40-yards of my life. After all, you never know who may be watching. In addition to the proper footwear, I’d need proper motivation, as well. Enter Under Armour athlete and NFL All-Pro Patrick Peterson, who recorded an impressive 4.34 in the same event back in 2011, who served as a coach of sorts for us writers trying our luck in the 40.
Upon rolling up to Lucas Oil Stadium on the day of the big run, the UA team escorted me and a group of other eager writers to the Under Armour Players Lounge for the official unveiling of the SpeedForm MC. As the first group of people to ever see the cleat in person, Under Armour’s VP of Team Sports Footwear Josh Rattet and Peterson walked us through all we needed to know regarding the cleat, a shoe that Peterson said made him feel like his feet were “grabbing the grass” upon first use. If the release of the Highlight MC a few years ago was Under Armour’s opening salvo to the football world that they’ve arrived, then the upcoming release of the SpeedForm MC is UA’s bold statement that they are gunning for the No. 1 spot. Drawing inspiration from a running shoe, the SpeedForm MC uses Under Armour’s revolutionary SpeedForm upper, a seamless molded heel cup and a Pebax heel counter lock to make it the fastest football cleat on the gridiron today. Adding to the shoe’s arsenal of technology is the V56 mechanism meant to combat hyper-extension of the foot, an injury that speedy players like Peterson are all too familiar with.
After learning everything we needed to know about the footwear that would serve as our tools of trade come time to run, it was time to consult Peterson for a little last minute advice before showtime. As a youngster out of LSU in 2011, Peterson said he prepared for his Combine day 40-yard dash like it was a heavyweight fight. As he put it, the Combine essentially serves as a job interview which could either “make you a millionaire or make you a grocery bagger.” While the stakes weren’t quite as high for me, Peterson stressed to all of us on the escalator trip down to the field that the key to running the 40 is being relaxed.
Despite the empty seats, the process of entering Lucas Oil Stadium from the tunnel for the first time was still a goosebump-inducing experience. I can only imagine what it feels like when your entire professional future is on the line. To prevent the unfortunate event of a pulled hammy, Peterson led us through a vigorous session of stretching and sprints. This is when it all started to set in that I was actually about to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Of course, I was scheduled to run last out of the entire group, making it harder and harder to do the very thing Peterson had told us to make sure to do: relax.
When my name was finally called, I toed the line in my No. 53 jersey ready to make some scouts’ jaws drop. Thanks to the NFL’s intricate laser enforced timing system, we were instructed to count to three before taking off, which of course meant three more seconds of heart-thumping pressure. After receiving my briefing from the official timers, I assumed the sprinter’s ready position, counted to three and took off. The first split was definitely the hardest, as I tried to pick up speed and avoid committing the cardinal sin of stumbling out of the gate, which luckily I did. One last bit of advice I received before running was to pretend you are running a 50-yard dash rather than a 40 to prevent you from slowing down towards the finish line. As I sprinted past the 40-yard line down to the 50, I instantly felt proud of my performance, thinking things definitely could have been worse. That was until I received my time, leaving me absolutely dumbfounded how someone like Peterson could possibly clock in at a time anywhere near the 4.34 he recorded.
While I huffed and puffed on the sideline while simultaneously checking my phone for any calls from scouts or agents (spoiler alert: there were none), we were told that we could also do the vertical leap test if we so pleased. Looking to add to my Combine resume, I jumped (no pun intended) at the opportunity. Given that I went last in the 40, I volunteered to go first in the vertical leap. If going first wasn’t enough pressure, the fact that two scouts from the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals were looking on just added to it. The instructions were simple, rock back and forth and jump straight up. After three jumps, your final score would be recorded. I lined up beneath the apparatus and leapt three times. After receiving my final score, I asked the one Cowboys scout how my score compared to past performances. His answer wasn’t so encouraging. “Let’s just say that no one got that score last year,” he said. At least I could say I was unique.
After throwing the ball around and running a few pass patterns on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, it was time to call it a day on my NFL Combine experience. Sure, my results didn’t exactly stack up with the actual prospects and I highly doubt Commissioner Goodell will calling my name from the podium come this April, but only so many people can say they ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Luckily, I am now one of them.