Up through the NFL draft, Shutdown Corner blogger Kristian Dyer will be training at TEST Sports Club in Martinsville, N.J., along with roughly 20 players. All of these athletes are prepping for the NFL scouting 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. — And so it begins.
I look to my left and there is a Ray Wegrzynek, a 6-1, 305-pound defensive lineman out of Kean University with his hands on his hips, slowly girating his legs. To my right is Sharrif Harris, a running back out of Southern Illinois University with dreads to his shoulders. In the blink of an eye, they're both racing away from me as I play catch-up. I manage to stay about two steps behind them as we sprint 40 yards.
"Not too bad," I think to myself; after all, these guys have legit ambitions of playing in the NFL someday and I'm a slightly out-of-shape journalist who is more likely to be sidelined by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than a hamstring pull. I get blindsided by big stories, not by linebackers.
As I walk back to the starting line, kicking up rubber pellets inside the 50-yard field turf of the TEST facility, I feel pretty good about myself. That's when I feel Skip Fuller's arm around my neck.
"Your head was all over the place. Your arms were stiff. You were up way to straight and you weren't running well at all. You were plodding like," Fuller said, pounding down with his feet to demonstrate what looked like Fred Flinstone trying to kick start his Flinstonemobile in ancient Bedrock.
"But other than that, I was OK, right?" I ask.
"Let's work on that first, back to the line," Fuller said.
Slowly I jog back, that sinking feeling in my stomach that I usually associate with a girlfriend finally realizing how cheap I am and dumping me. Already, I sense my draft stock plummeting and I might have to go the undrafted free-agent route. Fuller knows his stuff, his big smile and gregarious laugh giving no hint of a player who starred at West Virginia and played with the Miami Dolphins.
But clearly, I'm not one of these guys.
Such is the life of a NFL draft prospect, where a slight change in technique, a tenth of a second off a 40 time, a couple extra reps on the bench press will raise an athlete from an also-ran to a sleeper to even a player in demand. These athletes here were all the stars of their teams in college, many were All-Americans and some top players have had agents pursuing them and hanging around since they were in high school.
TEST has produced some top draft prospects over the years, with players like Joe Flacco, Ryan Clady and Patrick Peterson — all of whom have done their combine training here and went on to be first-round picks.
Others such as Indianapolis Colts Eric Foster or New York Jets Jamaal Westerman went undrafted and now are established players in the league. And then, there's me.
"You a soccer player?" one of the guys says to me. "You had to be a soccer player." I look down at my legs and there's no hiding it.
I don't consider myself an athletic slouch having played Division III college soccer at Montclair State University, a perennially ranked program that, after I left, went on to become a national powerhouse (don't make the connection). My coach, Rob Chesney, always pushed us hard to be conditioned and fit and I took pride in being a hard worker when I was a Red Hawk.
But that was nine years ago, as press box food and a lifestyle where excessive blogging can lead to a sweat hasn't done wonders for me. I'm pretty sure Betty White could push me in a sprint at this point. I'm still catching my breath from that last run.
And then there's Jason Peters, a defensive end from Georgia Tech who is right behind me after sprints. While I'm heaving from my last sprint, Peters hasn't even broken a sweat.
My timed 40 was a 5.95 seconds. That has to be good, right?
"You're about a full second behind every one," said Tad Kornegay, an All-American at Fordham who has played in the Canadian Football League the past seven years and works at TEST during the offseason. "Just a full second."
The TEST coaches must be wondering what they got themselves into with me. I'm fast learning that a second behind everyone else could cost me millions of dollars if a scout was watching. Uhhhh…Then it hits me. Even the hulking offensive and defensive linemen can out pace me. I measured in at 5-10¾ and 216.4 pounds These guys have a couple inches in height and a hundred pounds on me and I'd be eating their AstroTurf in a head-to-head matchup.
My vertical was better than expected, a solid 24 inches which means that I could get outrebounded by a halfway decent junior varsity basketball team. There was some individualized training with Geir Gudmundsen, who was twice an All-American at Albany and played professionally for four years. I'm not explosive, he explains, I need to push out stronger. He tells me to close my eyes and extend my arms. I do so and he pushes me forward.
I catch my balance and shoot him a dirty look.
"You put your right leg out to balance yourself. That's now your push off leg when you do these sprints," Gudmundsen said.
At this point, my 90 minutes of training and my first day living the life has come to an end. The guys are gulping down protein drinks and I stretch a little with Harris, my heart still beating and my face flushed like I had just gone through a mega tanning session with the cast of "The Jersey Shore."
Harris is cool and composed, taking me through some leg stretches with bands. Turns out I'm really good at this stretching thing. "You've got good flexibility," Harris said.
All right, finally something to hang my hat on. Maybe just maybe that NFL contract isn't so far away after all. I get up and dust the fake grass off my leg, finally feeling good about myself after a very long and humbling morning. Gudmundsen comes over and shakes my hand.
"Good first day," he says and I smile with that sense that maybe I've arrived. I mean, here's a trainer who has worked with the likes of NFL stars Jerricho Cotchery and Bart Scott and he just complimented me. Maybe I'm closer than I think.
"See you 9:30 tomorrow for leg day. You'll probably be sick after the first circuit. We keep trash cans nearby."
That would be trash cans in case I decide to lose my breakfast.
I've so not arrived.
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer