Can Alex make the grade and live the dream?
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