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Shutdown Corner

Training Day: TESTing Day at TEST

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Getting the reps in.

Up through the NFL Draft, Shutdown Corner'sKristian Dyer will be training at TEST Football Academy Powered by Parisi Speed School in New Jersey along with roughly 20 players. All of these athletes are prepping for the NFL Combine, different pro days and of course, the NFL Draft in April. A former college soccer player, Kristian was a playground legend at quarterback back in middle school, but never played a down of organized football. He will be blogging about the life of training for the NFL Draft and a career in the league as he lives it firsthand.

MARTINSVILLE, N.J. — It has been a month now that I have been training at TEST Sports Clubs and Parisi Speed Schools alongside roughly two dozen NFL Draft prospects, all of whom are getting ready for next week's NFL Combine and upcoming pro days at their schools. The workouts I've been in have been the same as theirs, I've been following a diet and now it was time to see if the gains were legit or if I was walking around with my chest puffed out on a fitness placebo.

It was time to get tested again — and I was nervous. I felt stronger and the workouts were getting a bit easier. One moment sticks out. Two weeks ago I was partnered with Sharrif Harris, a running back out of Southern Illinois. We were in the middle of our upper body circuit and were doing crunches. We lock feet and one person tossed the medicine ball at their partner, who did a crunch then tossed it back.

There's no doubt this exercise was tough and painful. But midway through Harris crunched up and tossed the ball at me and yelled "You got it in you?" There's been no looking back at that point for either of us. Harris has clearly gotten stronger and now, it was time to see if I was too.

I was easily the slowest "athlete" there, my sportswriter self running a 5.95 time in the 40 a month ago, nearly a second slower than even the biggest, most lumbering lineman.

Ray Wegrzynek, one of the top five long snappers in the country and a standout at Division III Kean, encouraged me after my initial testing left me gasping for breath. "Don't worry about it, we're all coming off long seasons and we're in peak shape right now. Give it a month," he said.

Well, nervously now as I stand in the end zone of the TEST facility, fidgeting as I get ready to run my 40, that time has arrived. I have now given it a month.

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The athlete at rest.

Several guys had stayed to watch me; a testament to what I hoped was their appreciation for my work ethic this past month. Truth be told, it was probably just morbid curiosity. I was 10 years removed from playing a competitive sport in college and a train wreck compared to these machines.

I get in my posture and, almost as if in a push-up, work my hands back towards the line. I leave my left arm back with one leg out and then I'm off, head down and arms making big pumps for the first five yards. Then I break into form, arms and elbows tight and my fingertips never going above eye level, all while keeping my head down. I run past the 40 and into the wrestling mat about 10 yards beyond the finish line. It felt good; it felt better than 30 days ago.

Michael Baker, a program director at TEST and one of the trainers I often turn to for advice is holding the stop watch. His expression is blank. "5.78 — you're down almost two-tenths of a second," Baker said smiling. I get a cheer from the guys.

In a world where a player can earn tens of thousands of dollars over a tenth of a second, I was .17 seconds closer to what Bowie State linebacker Delano Johnson likes to tell me is "making money." Everything these guys do, every last rep, is about doing it right and getting better, faster and stronger. It impacts their future.

The vertical jump followed, and I wasn't really sure I had made as much progress here from my 24 inches measured four weeks ago. Would the grueling leg workouts translate to the vertical? I played goalkeeper in college at Montclair State University so I had a decent vertical as I needed to come out and challenge for crosses. But this is just straight up as high as you can.

It is important to start low to be "explosive," as Baker puts it -- feet even and you're in a squat type position. You then jump — straight up — while getting full extension of the arms. You want that extra inch — you need that extra inch. I will be given three tries and Baker is standing there ready to see where I notch. The first two jumps came in at 25 inches and then 26.5 inches so something seems to be working, I've made gains. It is the last one that counts the most.

I swear that Dikembe Mutombo would have been proud. I hit 27 inches.

"That's a good vertical," Mike Brown out of Virginia said after. "It's really important as a defensive back to show you can do that, get up there. That extra inch matters — just look at the final play of the Super Bowl this year."

Progress is being made — can't wait to see what the next month brings.

Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer

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