Can Alex make the grade and live the dream?

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - All The Week’s Action... -

Ayear ago, com­pletely un­der the radar, Team GB Olympic dis­cus thrower Lau­rence Okoye turned up to an NFL Re­gional Com­bine in At­lanta dur­ing a day-off from his warm-weather dis­cus train­ing.

At com­bines, play­ers have to per­form a se­ries of tests and po­si­tion-spe­cific drills over the course of sev­eral hours.

The tests and their re­sults are de­signed to in­di­cate your ba­sic level of ath­letic abil­ity, fit­ness and strength. If you can’t per­form th­ese things well, you’re un­likely to be much use in the hurly-burly of an NFL bat­tle.

Okoye posted some im­pres­sive fig­ures and was in­vited back to the league’s Su­per Re­gional Com­bine in Dal­las, where he again ex­celled, at­tract­ing the in­ter­est of a host of teams be­fore sign­ing a pro-deal with the San Fran­cisco 49ers.

As an NFL fan, I fol­lowed his progress with in­ter­est and af­ter some re­search, it turns out that pretty much any­one can do the same.

Each year hun­dreds of the best col­lege play­ers at­tend an in­vi­teonly Scout­ing Com­bine where NFL ex­ec­u­tives, coaches, scouts and doc­tors from all 32 teams con­duct a four-day ‘job in­ter­view’ in the lead-up to the draft. Ever since I was lit­tle all I ever wanted was to be was a pro­fes­sional sports­man but as a child of the 1980s I have long since ac­cepted my chances of sport­ing fame and for­tune were be­hind me. But maybe, just maybe I was too hasty. En­ter Amer­i­can foot­ball. Tall? Yes, 6’’4’. Heavy? Yes, 19-and-a-bit stone. Quick? Err, ish. Strong? Rel­a­tively. Catch? Yes I can, I used to be a goalie. Seems I have some of the tools needed to be suc­cess­ful in this bru­tal, enthralling, spec­tac­u­lar game and now I also have the per­fect set­ting to show them off – the NFL Re­gional Com­bine in New York City next month. Over the next six weeks I’ll tell you more about the sport, how and where to play it in Kent, pro­vide some train­ing tips and chart my jour­ney as an over-the-hill sports jour­nal­ist with one last long shot at mak­ing it to the big time.

Thou­sands more col­lege and in­ter­na­tional play­ers won’t get an in­vite but rather than sit­ting at home and hop­ing they did enough on the field last sea­son to get no­ticed, for them – and me – there is now the Re­gional Com­bine pro­gramme, launched by the NFL in 2012 “to en­sure no wor­thy player is over­looked.”

Re­gional com­bines are held in 11 US cities in Fe­bru­ary and March, each host­ing 240 hope­fuls, with the top per­form­ers from each be­ing in­vited to at­tend the Su­per Re­gional Com­bine, in Detroit in April.

Now my ‘wor­thi­ness’ or oth­er­wise as a player has been the sub­ject of some good-na­tured de­bate at work and at home for the past cou­ple of months, how­ever un­der the prin­ci­ple of want­ing no re­grets, I filled in an online form, chose New York City as my pre­ferred desti­na­tion, paid a reg­is­tra­tion fee, signed some waivers and clicked ‘sub­mit’ with­out a mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion.

A few days later, I re­ceived word that my NFL ‘au­di­tion’ – for want of a bet­ter word – is at 12.30pm on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 15.

The best-case sce­nario is to im­press scouts and of­fi­cials so much that you get in­vited to the Su­per Re­gional Com­bine.

From there, another im­pres­sive per­for­mance could get you se­lected by one of the 32 pro­fes­sional teams as part of the an­nual NFL Draft or of­fered a con­tract as a free agent.

The worst case – and by far the most likely – sce­nario is that I get my five min­utes in the ar­ti­fi­cial halo­gen sun of the NY Jets in­door train­ing fa­cil­ity in Fe­bru­ary be­fore be­ing po­litely sent home.

At least I’ll not have to think ‘if only I’d....’

LAST SHOT: Alex Hoad

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