Fed to the Wolves: A Blogger at Training Camp, Part 1

See Also: Part 2 of A Blogger at Training Camp: The MMA Workout
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↵You could not make it in the NFL. You could not make in college football. Despite what you might think, you most likely run a 40-yard dash somewhere in the mid-five-second range if you are in very good shape. Athletes earn scholarship offers and sometimes disgusting salaries for good reason, because they do things you cannot do. ↵

↵If you doubt me, go clock one yourself. Oh, you’ll finish brimming with confidence: man, that felt fast! Look at the watch, and you will find whatever you just ran qualifies as loitering for a college or NFL athlete. That’s the definition of average: in the middle. ↵

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↵I know this because I just finished a two-day torture session at Division One Sports, a palatial facility in Franklin, Tenn., and it drove home the point with embarrassing clarity that on the great curve of human ability, athletes are here, and almost everyone else is there. “Here” in this case means “the far edge of human ability;” “there” means Suckville, Averageachusetts, the athletic neighborhood you and I, dear reader, likely inhabit. ↵

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↵The first part detailing the combine numbers follows. Part 2 will cover an even more grandiosely stupid idea: Me going through an MMA-style conditioning workout. To summarize: While the first was a non-stop parade of humiliation, the second was a non-stop lesson in pain, adding up to a full two courses of physical degradation on my plate. ↵

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↵Part One: The Combine Drills ↵

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↵The Shuttle Run ↵

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↵I am 31. The last time I ran a shuttle run I was 9 years old and had discovered the key to acing the Presidential Fitness Challenge -- bribing your gym teacher. My gym teacher was a drop dead alcoholic who hated the first two periods of the day for very, very good reasons, and I offered to clean his office to escape the humiliations of gym class. He accepted and occasionally slept off his hangover during the first hour of class in his office while I organized his fine selection of adult magazines. ↵

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↵Life favors the devious and fleshy in this millennium, and I’m living proof. ↵

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↵So, yeah, it’s been a while, but so what? It’s muscle memory, and how hard can it be? You run here, touch line, run here, touch line and then sprint. Will Santi, the trainer, tells me he’ll start on my mark. I crouch, breathe and launch to the left and into a physical terra incognita. ↵

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↵This will be first appearance of a theme today: In a single step, I have gone from moving comfortably in my body to waking up behind the controls of a 747 diving earthward at terminal velocity. ↵

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↵My legs thump at the ground uselessly. My balance centers whirl around like faulty gyroscopes. Every muscle fires in vain. In my head, this all looked way cooler, but reality sets in mid-drill. If this were the Wonderlic, I would be Vince Young. Doing my best impression of someone moving quickly, I cross the line. ↵

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↵Will looks at his watch. “5.47.” The look is scarcely concealed disgust mixed with bemusement, and he can’t be blamed for it. He trains guys in the 99th percentile of human performance to execute these drills and has an overweight, wheezing blogger on his hands. He is used to guys like Breno Giacomini, who ran this drill in 5.2 seconds. ↵

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↵Giacomini weighs 300 pounds and is 6-foot-7. ↵

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↵I am fighting the creeping suspicion that, in a primitive situation without the safety bumpers of civilization, I would have been devoured by wolves. ↵

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↵Vertical Leap ↵

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↵Will cranks up the vertical leap post. It’s a metal stand with plastic tiles hanging parallel to the ground. The one on the bottom reads 18”; according to Will, it is the bare minimum to avoid the shame of DQ’ing the drill completely. ↵

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↵It looks really, really far away from where I stand. ↵

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↵ ↵

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↵“Just pop up quickly and don’t swat at it. Tap it. Don’t swat.” ↵

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↵I jump three times, and only manage to clip the bottom slide. Eighteen inches of vertical leap assure that if I need to leap a large badger, a modest stack of phone books, or a wine bottle, I live. Make that a 24-inch-tall magnum of champagne, though, and I’m eaten by the wolves again. ↵

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↵Three-Cone Drill ↵

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↵The three-cone drill is another change-of-direction drill from hell, a half shuttle run with another cone added. You break just as you would for a shuttle run, but then pop to the side, change direction around the third cone and then complete running an L-shaped route by turning and sprinting for home. ↵

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↵If it sounds more complex than the other drills, it is. At this point in the workout, I know I’m completely physically illiterate. I walk through twice trying to give my muscle memory some kind of internal Cliffs Notes to follow. ↵

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↵It helps, but not much. Athletes running in snow shoes could top my time of 9.03 seconds, including 315-pound Michigan offensive lineman Jake Long, who ran the three-cone drill in 7.44 seconds at the NFL Combine. Wolves 3, Blogger 0. ↵

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↵Broad Jump ↵

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↵“I’m surprised. That’s respectable.” After falling on my ass twice, I make 6 feet, 10 inches in the broad jump. I beam with pride. ↵

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↵Will walks to the next drill, jotting down my measure. “At the draft, anything under 8 feet is considered nothing, really.” ↵

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↵My moment of excellence over, I assume this means the Wolves have their fourth victory over me. ↵

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↵Bench Press ↵

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↵The second most ignominious drill of all: the bare minimum for the NFL is 225 pounds on the bench press, and it is repeated to exhaustion. It is also, unlike any of the other drills, something I do at the gym. I know my limit, and it’s somewhere around 200 pounds, meaning I can respectably lift my body weight and not much more. ↵

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↵This means there’s a roulette ball’s chance of me lifting the weight once, but a rat’s chance in a meat grinder of me pulling off more than one. Getting the 34 reps Sedrick Ellis got in the draft last year might be physically impossible with even years of doing nothing but bench presses. ↵

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↵“You don’t have this,” says Will. ↵

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↵“Wait, just lemme...” ↵

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↵Will wasn’t being negative: he was merely stating fact. The bar goes down, halfway up, and just sits there with me pushing at it. We could sit here all day, me and the bar, but neither of us are going anywhere. Will has to pull the bar off my chest, and despite two attempts, I fail to do anything but move the bar halfway up to the rack. ↵

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↵I DQ the bench press. If this were the draft, my value would be expressed in negative numbers. High school punters toss up more than 225 with ease. Wolves 5, me, 0. ↵

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↵The 40, Where I Shame the Notion of S-E-C Speed ↵

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↵On the 40-yard dash, I’m back behind the wheel of the crashing 747. ↵

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↵I know what is supposed to happen. My foot, according to Will, is supposed to be just so; my arm, cocked back with a kung-fu grip. Off the line, the leg should explode in one long but manageable step; the head should look down until the twenty yard mark. The legs will move as fast as the arms do, so they should pump, and pump quickly. Strides should be both long and frequent through the finish line. ↵

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↵I know all of these things and can recite them with ease. My brain knows their meaning, but once I launch off the line, the smooth mechanistic sprinter’s agenda vaporizes in a flurry of panic, poor coordination, and a total lack of muscle memory. I have been replaced by the orangutan Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose -- my arms make irregular karate chops in every direction, and 3 yards into the sprint I’m fully upright and running like an ostrich wearing a pair of overgrown sideburns. ↵

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↵It is an exercise in complete physical illiteracy. It’s not that my body didn’t receive the instructions, but rather that my body doesn’t even understand what I’m telling it to do. Somewhere in my cerebral cortex a tiny man is pulling levers on a machine and expecting the whole vehicle to execute them with the precision and horsepower of a Shelby Cobra. Much to his shame -- and mine -- he’s getting the response you’d expect from a 1992 Saturn with a broken axle and bad shocks. ↵

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↵Will booms out my time: “6.09.” ↵

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↵I do not even break six seconds. Chris Johnson, who ran a 4.24 at the NFL Combine, could have beaten me by a third while carrying a whole fried turkey in his hands and eating it simultaneously. I am a glacier in sneakers, and even with repeated attempts, I don’t broach the six-second mark. The wolves sweep the competition, and I have to wonder how my lead-footed, unagile and perilously slow ancestors even managed to make it out of the cave for bathroom breaks without being torn to shreds by geriatric sabretooth tigers. ↵

↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵

↵Ed. note: Part 2 of Spencer's torture tour will be posted here tomorrow morning. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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