Redondo trainer prepares athletes for big payday

by Randy Angel
Published February 21, 2008

Classroom finals were nothing compared to the pressure hundreds of elite former college athletes are facing this week at the NFL Combines in Indianapolis where a sub-par performance can cost a player millions of dollars and high scores can land a professional contract.

With their illustrious college careers now just afterthoughts of NFL general managers and coaches, more than 300 football players will attend the invitation-only event at the RCA Dome to be weighed, measured, timed, interviewed mentally challenged. The annual evaluations began yesterday and run through Wednesday.

With so much on line, physical and mental preparation is of the utmost importance. That’s why a group of prospective draft choices from around the country have sought out Redondo Beach trainer Ken Vick to help them reach their childhood dreams – and the large financial payoff – of becoming a professional football player in the NFL.

Utilizing the facilities at Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, Vick supervises a coaching team that includes speed expert Nick O’Brien and strength specialist Adam Johnson from the Redondo Beach facility, to refine the skills each individual player needs to impress the decision makers from the 32 NFL franchises.

“We were contacted by Athletes First, who was impressed with the experience of our staff and the success we’ve had with other elite athletes besides football players,” Vick said. “Many players had other options throughout the country and even in southern California, but they came in, checked out our facilities and we sat down with them individually. I listened to what they needed, how they’re feeling, what their concerns are and they decide to train with us.”

The list of players under Vick’s tutelage includes three of the top five quarterbacks in the draft. Brian Brohm, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound passer is expected to be a top-ten pick after throwing for 6,751 yards and 41 touchdowns at Louisville.

John David Booty (6-3, 225) concluded his college career at USC after passing for 6,125 yards and 55 touchdowns in 38 games. Chad Henne’s stock rose after the 6-foot-3, 228-pound signal caller outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in Michigan’s 41-35 victory over Florida in the Capitol One Bowl. Both quarterbacks are projected to go in the first three rounds.

Other notable players taking advantage of Vick’s expertise are projected first-round picks Keith Rivers (linebacker, USC), DeJuan Tribble (cornerback, Boston College) and John Carlson (tight end, Notre Dame). Anticipated to go in the first four rounds are linemen Drew Radovich (USC), John Sullivan (Notre Dame), Adam Kraus (Michigan), receiver Adrian Arrington (Michigan), defensive tackle Trevor Laws (Notre Dame) and running back Jamaal Charles (Texas).

For many of these young men in their early 20’s, preparing for the combines has become their first full-time job. The knowledge and skills acquired from years spent on college campuses reinforces the thought that while they may be paying their dues during this “training period,” the benefits of a quick promotion and large financial bonus package will be well worth it.

The players meet for morning sessions where they get ready to train for the day by completing a rigorous series of movement preparations drills – a full workout for the average fitness buff.
Already soaked with sweat, the players begin to work on their speed and agility -- the main focus in the early session. Proper techniques, footwork and angles are worked on to improve the bursts of speed needed to shave valuable hundredths of seconds of their times in the 40-yard dash. Using state-of-the-art equipment, Vick and his team video recorded and analyzed on the computer each player’s performances throughout the day.

After stretching, receiving treatment for various injuries and a nutrition shake take a break before visiting with the sports psychologist, nutritionist or working on their skill position drills such as throwing, catching or blocking.

The players reassemble around 2 p.m. and begin working on applied drills, agility maneuvers before hitting the weights for strength training. Twice a week the athletes get massages.

“Going into the combines, I’m focusing more on the bench press,” said Radovich, a 6-5, 302-pound offensive tackle who helped pave the way for a USC offense that averaged 434 yards per game. “I didn’t bench press much at USC due to some injuries and it wasn’t a main concern at the time. Here, there are some new techniques I didn’t know existed and they’ve helped me increase my reps of 225 pounds from 14 to 21 in just the short time I’ve been here. The speed drills are all explosive in nature, building more glut power and calf strength. I’ve really been happy with the training I’ve received by Ken and his staff.”

While times, repetitions, weight and agility are the marks recorded on paper, how a player copes with the mental stress can be of equal or greater importance. Dr. Michael Garvais, a renowned sports psychologist in Los Angeles assists the athletes in mental preparation, including breathing techniques and methods to stay focused while eliminating surrounding distractions such as lights and coaches.

“All the guys will tell you that performing at the combines is 75-95 percent mental, so each day we are preparing the athlete’s mind as well as the body,” Vick said. Part of this process is having the athletes take the Wonderlic IQ test immediately after completing a drill. “They have eight or 10 seconds to answer. They will be under tremendous pressure at the combines. We give them tests while their heart rates are up so they get used to relaxing under pressure.”

Contributing to the mental stress at the combines is the importance of performing at one’s best in each attempt. Training for the event has been compared to that of the Olympics, but unlike the international competition where athletes have three opportunities to leave their mark, players at the combines have but two attempts to make an impression.

“It’s a much different training method than for football season, more of a track athlete atmosphere,” Brohm said, wiping sweat from his brow after finishing his core strengthening exercises. “We do a lot of drills that are running based, concentrating on the explosion out of the start. We have to get into a routine so when we get in the combines, everything we’ve been doing at Velocity is second nature.”

Brohm is one of the athletes who have stood out in Vick’s evaluation. “I’ve been very impressed with Brian. He’s strong and focused on everything he does. He’s done a great job on increasing his explosiveness and taking care of his body.”

The NFL Scouting Combines can be seen daily on the NFL Network. ER