MARTINSVILLE, N.J. — Training for the 40-yard dash seemed like a fun challenge until I stepped onto the turf at TEST Sports Clubs.
A dozen NFL hopefuls were set for another grueling workout under the stern direction of coaches Kevin Dunn and Geir Gudmundsen before I walked in.
Players from across the country come here to prepare for this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, the regional combines and their pro days. They spend six to eight weeks working on ways to improve every aspect of their performance, and specifically trying to improve times in the 40-yard dash, number of reps in the 225-pound bench press and other tests they’ll be measured on, including interviews and the intelligence test.
Joe Flacco and Patrick Peterson, a two-time All-Pro, are among many NFL players that have trained at TEST Parisi Football Academy, and several players still work out there in the offseason.
Players listen intently to instructions and focus on perfecting the smallest details because that can be the difference between an average 40 time and standing out.
“Violent arms,” Gudmundsen shouted. “Swing your arms violently.”
Running a faster 40 is more about proper upper-body technique than simple speed and footwork. Many players (and journalists) don’t learn this until they join the program.
“I didn’t know that in the beginning,” Notre Dame linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. “Arms play a big part in it.”
Dunn, CEO and owner, and his staff break down movements step-by-step on video, show players side-by-side comparisons and study film on the fastest guys.
LSU wide receiver Kadron Boone was a quick learner. He expects to run a sub-4.4 time.
Dunn said he can typically shave two-tenths of a second off a player’s 40-time by making mechanical adjustments, making guys more powerful, more explosive, more flexible, more mobile.
I tried to blend in during various drills, pushed sleds without counting how many 45-pound plates were stacked on, and concentrated on footwork, body angling and hand positioning.
It was overwhelming, but I had a modest goal. I just wanted to beat Tom Brady’s famously low time of 5.28 at the 2000 combine. Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, ran the slowest 40 of any quarterback in NFL history and was repeatedly passed over in the draft before New England selected him in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick.
I once ran a 4.58 in the 40 as a college baseball player in the mid-1990s. That was before tearing my right ACL, dislocating my left patella and dealing with chondromalacia in both knees. But I’m a fitness freak and still haven’t retired the cleats. So, beating Brady’s time didn’t seem too difficult.
The stopwatch is unforgiving, however.
I dug my back foot into the turf, bent over into a four-point stance, angled my left arm backward and behind my head, positioned my right hand even with the starting line, tilted my neck down and waited for the sign to go.
I swung my arms so violently that I nearly slipped out of the start, regained my balance and took off, chugging along while players took a break from weightlifting to watch my futile attempt. I crossed the 40 and kept running into the padded wall, turned around and anxiously waited for the result.
It was embarrassing, and everything about it felt awkward. I had to try again, but needed cleats. Surely, that was the problem. CFL star Tad Kornegay also wears size 11, so he gave me his. Kornegay said they were good for a 4.5.
Not for me. I ran a 5.88.
Should’ve stuck with the bench press.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: twitter.com/AP—RobMaaddi