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Football Factory

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Who’s going to be the next Nick Collins?

As a high-school football player in Florida, Collins wasn’t recruited by any big-time college programs, so he went to Bethune-Cookman University, a relatively small school in Daytona Beach, Fla., that most die-hard college football fans know little about. He was a standout player at Bethune, an All-American defensive back, yet professional teams largely overlooked Collins, who measured only 5 feet 11 inches. When he arrived at Parisi Speed School in early 2005 with dreams of making the NFL, he didn’t even have a pair of cleats; he just ran in his sneakers. By chance, he got invited to a college all-star game and played well. Then he got invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and ran a blazing fast 4.3-second 40-yard dash. Shortly thereafter, he was selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Since then, he’s been to three Pro Bowls and scored a touchdown on a 37-yard interception return for the Packers in their Super Bowl win in February.

Or the next Osi Umenyiora?

Umenyiora has a similar story to Collins’. He didn’t play much high-school football and gained little interest from colleges. He went to Troy University in Alabama, played ball and became an All-American, but an NFL career looked to be a long shot. He started training at the Parisi Speed School, worked his butt off and impressed NFL scouts with a 4.5-second 40 and 43-inch vertical leap — all at a hulking 275 pounds of bodyweight. Because of these impressive measurables, Umenyiora was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants. Now he’s an All-Pro defensive end with a Super Bowl ring.

An overlooked player, training at Parisi and going on to a successful NFL career — it’s not a coincidence. For the last 12 years, Bill Parisi and his team of trainers have taken college football players and turned them into elite NFL-caliber athletes in a matter of months, sometimes weeks. Shaving two-tenths of a second off a 40-yard dash here, adding 6 inches to a vertical leap or standing broad jump there, taking a lineman doing 20 reps with 225 pounds on the bench press and turning it into 35 reps. Two-tenths, 6 inches and 15 reps may not sound like much, but in the ultra-competitive world of professional football, such improvements can mean the difference between getting picked in the early rounds of the NFL Draft and not getting drafted at all. Such improvements can be worth millions of dollars in salary.

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“Our NFL Combine preparation program is a holistic approach where these guys are becoming better athletes across the board,” says Parisi COO Martin Rooney, who trains athletes out of Parisi’s Fair Lawn, N.J., facility, one of the company’s 65 locations nationwide. “These guys don’t even know what they’re capable of when they first get here. And then when they start setting personal records, they say, ‘What can’t I do?’”

Talent Pool
An NFL hopeful’s college career typically ends sometime in December or January after his senior season, depending on whether his team played in a bowl game or not. (Some players pursue the NFL after their junior seasons, but most stay in college all four years.) The NFL Draft takes place sometime the following April. This gives players only a few months to make a favorable impression on NFL scouts and coaches to enhance their draft position.

In reality, there’s less time than that because the NFL Scouting Combine takes place in late February or early March. The combine, held every year in Indianapolis, is the ultimate football meat market, where scouts and coaches from every NFL team come to watch the top 300 or so potential draftees participate in several drills intended to objectively measure skill and athleticism. The drills include a 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump, agility “shuttles” and a bench-press test in which players do as many reps with 225 pounds as possible. Position drills also are performed, in which quarterbacks throw passes, wide receivers catch balls, defensive backs backpedal, and so on, to display game-specific skills. Even psychological elements are evaluated at the combine, including a Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test to measure intelligence and private meetings with individual players and team officials. In 2011, the NFL Scouting Combine took place from February 23 to March 1, meaning that a player who participated in an early-January bowl game and was invited to the combine had fewer than eight weeks to prepare for it. For a football player, the combine is as grueling a job interview as you can imagine. For NFL team owners, it’s a means of scrutinizing players you’re about to invest millions of dollars in.

Players not invited to the combine have the opportunity to participate in the aforementioned drills in front of NFL scouts and coaches at a “pro day” held at their college campuses in the weeks following Indianapolis. If you’re one of these athletes — a fringe player considered to be on the outside looking in at the draft — your pro day is likely your last opportunity to catch an NFL team’s eye. No pressure or anything.

Daily Grind
With such a short window between the last college game of the season and the combine and pro days, the Parisi Speed School has its work cut out for it. Eight to 10 weeks — that’s about all the time there is to make guys faster, quicker and stronger to improve their draft stock. As a result, the program is intensive and highly structured. Players train twice a day, five days a week, and once on Saturday. It’s like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. They wake up in the morning, have their meals prepared for them and take a shuttle to the gym from the hotel they all stay at. They train from 9 a.m. to noon, eat again, then take the shuttle back to the hotel to relax. Two hours later, it’s back to the gym to train from 2 to 4 p.m., then another meal. In the evening, they may do position drills and get a massage to aid muscle recovery. Each player also follows an individualized supplement plan made up of Inner Armour products (see sidebar on Page TK) to ensure the hard work in the gym doesn’t go to waste. The next day, repeat all over again. For the entire months of January and February, and into March for most guys, preparing for the combine or a pro day is the sole focus.

“The 40-yard-dash and shuttles are a big emphasis, but that’s not all we’re doing with these guys,” Rooney says. “We want the whole package. If a guy runs the 40 really fast but his vertical is bad, he fails the Wonderlic and doesn’t do well at position drills, nothing happens for him. I don’t put more of a value on any test over another. And remember, the first test overall [at the combine] is the ‘look test,’ where they bring you out in your underwear and they video you and take pictures of you. If the sloppy-looking guy and the ripped guy both run the same time in the 40, they’ll take the ripped guy.”

The physical transformations seen in the athletes can be staggering. Rooney’s team takes before and after photos of every player who comes through the program. In some cases, guys lose 10 pounds of fat while adding 10 pounds of muscle or do 20 reps with 225 on the bench press after starting out at eight to 10 reps. Rob McGill, an offensive lineman from Louisiana Tech, came to Parisi at the beginning of the year running the 40 in 5.6 seconds. By early February, he was in the 5.2s.

“How they physically and mentally change is insane,” Rooney says. “In six or eight weeks, they’re a different person. Sometimes their families and friends don’t even recognize them when they come back home. I think a lot of it has to do with getting them out of that college atmosphere. You would think these kids are eating great and doing everything perfect, but instead, they tell stories of eating horribly and not taking any supplements and getting beat down by the training. Because in college, it’s not about them, it’s about the team. In this program, it’s about them. Each one of these guys is like a gem.”

Numbers Game
To date, the Parisi Speed School has helped produce more than 130 NFL draft picks, all resulting from heroic combine performances following its intensive training program. To be honest, some of its most gifted athletes — like Chris Long, the second overall selection in the 2008 draft — would have been first-round picks regardless of where they trained. But where Parisi has truly carved its niche is in taking the marginal player pegged as a late-round pick, if a pick at all, and elevating him to a draft-day success story a la Collins and Umenyiora.

“That’s the magic of this program,” Rooney says. “It’s a meat-and-potatoes program. Yeah, we’ve had Howie Long’s son and Phil Simms’ kid, but it’s not only first-rounders who have been successful here. It’s the kid that has to absolutely kill it at the combine or pro day to have a shot, a kid from a small school perhaps. We’re talking about borderline guys who might get drafted but might not.”

For the borderline guy, the margin for error is next to nothing. Not only does every tenth of a second on an NFL scout’s stopwatch count but also every hundredth. “It’s the difference between running a 4.9 and 4.7,” Rooney says. “Two-tenths in this thing is an eternity. It’s your whole life. But if you really want to break it down, think about the difference between a 4.40 and 4.39. It’s not even the blink of an eye. If a guy runs a 4.4, maybe he doesn’t get drafted. But if he runs a 4.39, he goes in the fourth round. That’s 500 grand in the bank account before you even go to training camp, all because you ran one-hundredth of a second faster.”

So who’s it going to be? Who’s the next Collins, the next Umenyiora? Parisi only takes in about 20 players a year at its Fair Lawn facility for combine prep; any more than that and the athletes don’t receive the individual attention required to excel. This past year, several players from big schools showed promise. Justin Trattou, a 250-pound defensive end out of the University of Florida, ran a 4.6 in the 40 and vertical-leaped 34 inches at his pro day in Gainesville; offensive lineman Randall Hunt of the University of Illinois benched 225 pounds for 33 reps; and defensive lineman Ollie Ogbu from Penn State impressed scouts with a 4.77-second 40 and a standing broad jump of 9 feet, unprecedented numbers for someone who weighs 298 pounds.

In the end, it was the small-school guys, the ones playing in the shadows for the last four years, who made the biggest draft-day splash of 2011. Will Rackley, an offensive lineman from Lehigh University, was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round after posting 29 reps on the bench press. Cornerback Justin Rogers out of the University of Richmond ran a 4.45-second 40 and went in the seventh round to the Buffalo Bills. But keep your eye out for Buster Skrine, a defensive back from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. The Cleveland Browns picked him in the fifth round after he ran the fastest 40 at the combine (4.29) and the fastest 60-yard shuttle, not to mention doing 20 reps with 225 pounds on the bench press at a bodyweight of only 186 pounds.

The next Nick Collins? We may have just found our answer.

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Muscle Armour
In addition to having all meals prepared for them by a team of nutritionists and culinary professionals, all players in the Parisi Speed School NFL Combine preparation program take Inner Armour supplements throughout the day to help enhance muscular performance and recovery. Every Inner Armour product is rigorously tested and certified to be free of any banned substances by the NFL. “Every one of these guys is going to get tested,” Parisi COO Martin Rooney says, “so we can’t afford to have any of them testing positive. Inner Armour products not only have gotten us great results, but I also don’t have to lose any sleep worrying about any of these guys testing positive.”

Below is an example of the players’ daily Inner Armour supplement intake:

Morning: Nitro-Peak protein shake, often taken with breakfast

Preworkout: Power-Peak muscle stimulant (contains hydrolyzed whey, carnosine and other ingredients)

Postworkout: Mass-Peak “gainer” shake (2:1 ratio of carbs to protein; also contains flax oil, essential fatty acids and casein protein for extend protein release); Training-Peak (vitamin/mineral pack)

Near Bedtime: Casein (amino-acid enhanced)

Other Times: Nitro-Peak 4-ounce protein shots (used for convenience when taking protein anytime during the day)

Speed Kills
The programs Martin Rooney and his team of trainers at Parisi

Speed School’s Fair Lawn, N.J., facility put their aspiring NFL stars through vary from athlete to athlete, depending on specific goals, strengths and weaknesses. One player may need more agility work, while another needs greater emphasis placed on bench-press strength or 40-yard-dash speed. Individual differences aside, Rooney stands by four tenets of developing elite football players day in and day out. Not surprisingly, these tenets all revolve around speed. Because in the NFL, a faster player is a scarier player.

• “To get fast, you have to train fast. We do some form of speed work every day leading up to the NFL Combine and pro days.”

• “To get fast, you have to lose body fat. We monitor each athlete’s diet and body-fat percentage every week to remove the excess baggage, so to speak.”

• “To get fast, you have to be strong. We build strength in the gym and with such implements as weighted sleds to improve stride length and power.”

• “To get fast, you have to be healthy. Every day, to prevent injury, we implement ‘prehab’ training, which includes foam rolling, stretching and any other physical therapy needed. We also perform a 30-minute dynamic warm-up to begin our first training session of the day.”