Story: Combines

By Randy Rodgers : 8th In A Series

As the Spring Evaluation period nears, the world of “combines” also expands. The original combine, as in NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, has been expanded to the high school ranks. Nearly every organization that bills itself as a recruiting service has organized its own combine. High School Coaches organizations hold their own combines. As we discuss this phenomenon, it is important to first define the concept.

Combine Testing at the high school level usually involves about six different stations. Each prospect is weighed and measured. They are tested for strength on the bench press, usually to determine the maximum number of repetitions at 185 pounds, although some times linemen are tested at the 225 standard. Each prospect is tested for explosive leg power, usually in the vertical jump, but sometimes in the standing long jump. Each prospect is tested for quickness and change of direction skills in the “pro shuttle”, where the prospect starts in the middle of a ten yard box, sprints five yards one way to touch a line, back ten yards to the other side of the box, then finishes in the middle. Finally each prospect runs the forty-yard dash for time.

These combines are part of the evaluation process and every college that holds a summer camp of their own will conduct their own combine testing. In some cases combines are just part of an overall activity. For instance the Nike Football Training Camps, to be held across the country from April to June, incorporate combine testing as a part of their overall camp event, but sometimes the event is just the combine tests.

What do these test indicate?

Obviously the height and weight measurements are there to validate what the prospect claims to be. Many prospects inflate their height and weight. Because many schools set standards for height and weight, colleges do place some emphasis on these measurements. If you, as a prospect, have “marketed” yourself as taller or heavier than you really are, these measurements could be eye opening to both yourself and the evaluator.

The vertical jump and shuttle are indicators of explosiveness and power. Prospects with a very good vertical jump are often players with a lot of natural explosiveness that may not have been developed in the weight room. Anybody over 30 inches will catch a college coach’s eye. Big linemen in the high 20’s are also an eye-opener. The shuttle is really a defensive players drill. It measures the ability to accelerate and decelerate in a short space and is usually an indicator of excellent change of direction skills, highly sought by defensive coaches. Industry standards indicate that a prospect’s shuttle time should be about four tenths of a second quicker than his forty yard dash, i.e. a 4.5/40 ought to equate to a shuttle time around 4.1.

The bench press is obviously about upper body strength and particularly important for any defensive player and offensive linemen. Any position that demands that you be able to punch and lock out your arms will require good upper body strength.

The forty-yard dash is the glorified speed indicator. Most prospects focus on this and so do the college coaches. However running an outstanding forty-yard dash doesn’t mean you are a football player, because football isn’t just a track meet. But certainly speed is the most important ingredient in top players. Like height, running the 40-yard dash is a validation test for the college evaluator. Many prospect never seem to run what they claim to be their forty time in a combine setting. A common example is that the prospect may have tested once at 4.59, so when he fills out the standard college football questionnaire, he says he is a “4.5 guy”. He goes to the combine and runs 4.61, so now he becomes a “4.6 guy”. Clearly not much difference in performance but saying you run 4.5 sounds a lot better than saying you run 4.6.

If you as a prospect have marketed yourself as bigger, stronger, or faster than you really are, your combine tests may well slow down your recruiting timetable. So when you attend a combine, make sure you are rested and prepared to do as well as you claim you can. Train to prepare for a combine just like you train to prepare for a contest. If you really feel your performance on combine tests are important to your recruitment, then maximize your opportunity. Practice sprinting and jumping. Practice the shuttle. Make sure you get enough sleep prior to the event. Make sure you fuel up. If you don’t test as well as you think you should, many times you can “scratch” your times, but any reader of the results will know you didn’t do as well as you claim you can.

Are attending combines good?

During the spring evaluation period for college coaches (April 15-May 31), if a combine is held on a Saturday, college coaches can attend. NCAA rules do not permit them to attend on Sundays. So if you have an opportunity to work out in front of college coaches, that is a good evaluation opportunity for you. In addition to your results, they are interested in seeing you physically, Assessing your body type for growth potential is a big part of the evaluation process, so there is more value than just testing.

This summer every college football program will hold their own camp and combine testing will be a part of it. The colleges can add additional tests because it is their camp and you paid for the right to attend. If an independent organization holds a combine during the summer, no college coach may attend as per NCAA rules, so you will be responsible for reporting your own test results to whichever schools you want to know. Sometimes those organizations will report the combine results on their Internet sites.

Should pay to attend a combine?

Personally I don’t think so. Why pay money to attend an event that no college coach can attend? From a recruiting perspective, no college coach can confirm your marks, so what is the difference between those results and the ones your high school coach gave you during the school year. It just depends on how you and your parents look at paying. If you feel it is an “investment” for your football future, then you have to look at the risk/rewards of attending. If you pay and you test well, it is good, but if you test bad, you paid somebody to report that you aren’t as fast or strong as you claim.

Certainly at some point in the recruiting process you WILL be tested. The results you get will provide valuable feedback for you. If you don’t perform as well as you can, you have work to do. If you do perform well, that should carry a lot of satisfaction for the hard work you have already put in.