Understanding the Football Combine
Todd Goldbeck DPT, ATC, CSCS, STC
Xcel Sports Training, CLN Consultant
Every year thousands of high school football players across the country with the desire and the ability to participate at the collegiate level are overlooked by college and university coaching staffs.
Athletes can go unnoticed because of an unsuccessful team record, or because they attend smaller, lower profile high schools, and/or because they fail to effectively market their talents to the proper audience.
This is disappointing because the opportunity to play football at a higher level is possible for any committed and motivated young man.
One of the ways that athletes can increase their opportunities is through combines. Combines allow athletes to realistically evaluate how they need to develop, to see how they compare to other players across the country, and to fuel interest among college recruiters.
However, understanding what makes a good - or not so good - combine is just as important as deciding to participate in a combine. Effective and legitimate combines assist athletes in overcoming obstacles by:
- Increasing the exposure of athletes to college and university recruiters and coaching staffs;
- Providing athletes, parents and high school coaches with insight into the collegiate recruiting process; and
- Promoting better, more efficient training techniques so athletes can increase productivity at their positions, improve overall athletic performance and prevent injuries.
As a high school athlete who was recruited to play college football, I learned many things that collegiate coaches want - and do not want - from the athletes they are recruiting. As a college athlete, I was named an Academic All-American and won a NCAA DIII national championship. Following my football career, I earned a Doctorate of Physical Therapy, an Athletic Training License, a Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification, and a Sports Therapist Certification.
Because of those experiences, I created Xcel Sports Training to specifically help athletes increase their opportunities through improved performance and effective national combines. Our mission in performing combines is to help athletes gain exposure to college coaches, as well as educate student-athletes and their parents on the recruiting process. It is our hope that many more young men get the opportunity to play collegiately that would not have had that chance if not for attending a quality combine.
Based on my experiences on both sides of the athletic spectrum, I would like to share what I have learned over the years to help players, parents and coaches to better understand the purpose of an effective football combine.
What is a Combine?
A combine is an event in which athletes get tested in various speed, power, strength and agility drills in order to determine their physical prowess. The information is objective and used for recruiting purposes to assist in the evaluation of athletic talent.
Combines can serve as a valuable tool for athletes to get themselves noticed by college recruiters, but you must be aware that attending any combine does not guarantee that scholarship money will be flowing through your front door.
Many factors are involved in the recruitment of a high school student-athlete to play collegiate football. Academics, college size and geographical location, the football program’s yearly needs and the intended course of study all play important roles in determining what college a student-athlete might attend.
Participating in a combine is the beginning of the recruiting process, and performing at one that is reputable will jumpstart an athlete’s recruitment. This article will outline the basic components of a combine, factors to consider when evaluating combines, the various tests performed and what those tests mean to college football coaches.
The tests performed at the Xcel Combine include Anthropometric Measures (height, weight, hand span, wing span), 40-Yard Dash, Pro-Agility Shuttle, 3-Cone Shuttle, 60-Yard Shuttle, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump and Bench Press. The Xcel Sports Training Combine tests have been determined to provide the most complete physical picture of a football player.
Xcel High School Football Performance and Recruiting Combine Locations and Dates
Each college coach is looking for a particular type of player, depending on their offensive and defensive schemes. Not every college places the same premium on size, speed, agility and power. The goal of every combine should be to test the athletes in the most accurate and thorough way possible, then provide the information to the people who need it, the college coaches, so they may use it to evaluate players they are recruiting.“What are good scores?
Athletes often ask, “What is a good time?” or “What is a good score?” for the various tests.
The truth is, all of the scores are relative. Each athlete should perform to the best of their ability, after which, they can be compared to every other athlete involved in any other Xcel Combine. It is up to the college coaches to determine which scores mean the most to them and their teams.
Recently, there have been several “Ranking Systems” developed in an effort to categorize players. These rankings place more weight on some tests, less on others, and leave some out completely. This defeats the whole purpose of a combine. If it were as simple as testing only a few things, then creating a ranking number for each athlete, the NFL would have already done it and be using that system exclusively.
You must look at who has invented these “rankings” and decide what is their motive for doing so. Are they interested in helping high school football players achieve their dream of playing at the collegiate level, or are they simply an apparel or equipment company looking to sell their gear by creating a catchy marketing campaign?
Recruiting agencies have also been known to create gimmicky slogans, as well as present their own combines, which serves to disguise the fact they simply want to sign the athletes up for their program. Because there is so much misinformation out there about combines and recruiting, it is easy to be mislead.
The standard litmus test applies in this situation, as it does to most others in society today. You must ask yourself the following question, “What does this company do, and how do they stand to gain from this?” Sometimes it is fairly transparent what the motivation is and that there is no sincerity to help athletes.
The combine tests were developed for a reason, and have been used for many years. They all provide a piece to the overall puzzle of the athlete. Offensive linemen are different than defensive linemen, who are different than running backs and wide receivers, just as each test reflects a different athletic trait.
No test is more important than the next, unless a college coach thinks it is for his particular program. Each athlete must perform each test as if it is the most important, then the coaches will decide, based on the athlete’s strengths and deficiencies, if that athlete will fit into their team and therefore be recruited.
Standardization is a term that is used by many to describe test procedures. Simply performing the same tests does not mean standardization. Standardization means that the same tests are performed, using the same testing procedures, the same equipment, on the same test surfaces, in the same environment, for every athlete.
When college coaches are initially evaluating athletes across the country, based solely on the numbers provided by a combine, they need to know they can compare the results equally. The only way to do that is to ensure that the tests are performed under the same conditions.
Combines should be evaluated using the same criteria as a research experiment. The more variables that are eliminated and the more the test environment is controlled, the more accurate, valid and reliable the results will be. Without controlling all of the different factors involved at each combine, you are simply comparing apples to oranges, not apples to apples.
If some athletes are tested one way and others are tested differently, the information is useless to college recruiters. It is important that all athletes be afforded the same opportunities and no one is given any advantages, simply based on the way they are tested.
Functional Performance Tests
The Functional Performance tests are designed to evaluate each athlete's speed, agility, strength and explosive power. Here are the Functional Performances tests of the Xcel Combine:
Anthropometric Measures: Anthropometric Measures give college coaches the first view of each athlete. Based on an athlete’s physical size, a college coach can determine if he meets the initial requirements for their program. Each coach can look at a high school player and decide if that player resembles his players at that age. If so, he will begin recruiting that athlete, sometimes as early as their freshman year in high school.
40 Yard Dash (The “40”): The 40 Yard Dash has become the standard for speed testing, and has developed a cult following among athletes, coaches, scouts and fans.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1960’s are credited as the first team to use the “40” to evaluate the overall speed of players.
Emphasizing speed and quickness with athletes like “Bullet” Bob Hayes (1968 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist), the Cowboys became a dominant organization.
The Cowboys figured no player would typically run any further than 40 yards on any given play, and thus by default, the “40” became the speed standard for the modern athlete.
Because of the emotional attachment people have with the “40”, as well as the propensity for coaches and parents to report inaccurate or “inflated” times for their athletes and children, electronic timing is preferred by college coaches.
The “40” is most appropriate for wide receivers, defensive backs and running backs. A 10-yard split time is also recorded, to reflect the importance of a shorter, more appropriate distance for linemen. A 20-yard split time is recorded to reflect a typical distance that a linebacker, tight end or quarterback might run on an average play. These split times are also gathered electronically.
Pro Agility Shuttle (5-10-5 Shuttle): The Pro Agility Shuttle is a measure of explosive lateral movement and multiple changes of direction. It requires the athlete to have the ability to start, stop and achieve top speed all within a very short distance.
The test begins with the athlete straddling the center start/finish line. He starts from a lateral position, runs 5 yards in one direction, 10 yards the opposite direction, then back 5 yards through the start/finish line. He must touch the ground with his hand at each change of direction.
Time is recorded electronically for the most accurate results.
The Pro Agility Shuttle is most reflective of play by linebackers, defensive backs and quarterbacks.
3-Cone Shuttle: The 3-Cone Shuttle measures the ability of an athlete to change directions while continuing to run forward.
The test begins by running 5 yards in one direction, 5 yards the opposite direction, 5 yards in the original direction, at which time he is required to make 90 degree right turn, circle a cone from inside-out, then back around the 90 degree turn and through the start/finish line.
The athlete must run forward while altering his running direction, as opposed to strictly stopping and starting in opposite directions.
The 3 Cone Shuttle is most reflective of the actions of a running back, wide receiver, linebacker, quarterback and defensive back. Time is recorded electronically for the most accurate results.
60-Yard Shuttle: The 60-Yard Shuttle is a ladder shuttle of progressing distances. It is a longer shuttle and maximizes an athlete’s anaerobic system.
The athlete runs 5 yards, 10 yards, then 15 yards, each time returning to the start line before running to the next distance.
Because an average football play lasts only 6 seconds, the 60 shuttle, which is typically twice that time, requires the athlete to “reach down” to find extra speed and strength to finish the test in a timely manner.
It is considered a measure of a football player’s determination and resolve.
Time is recorded electronically for the most accurate results.
Vertical Jump: The Vertical Jump is a measure of an athlete’s lower extremity explosiveness.
The test requires the athlete to lift his body straight up off the ground from a stationary stance.
Squats in the weight room are most similar to this activity, so the Vertical Jump could be considered the functional measure of an athlete’s squat.
For test purposes, it is much more efficient than testing an actual maximum squat.
There is also an added amount of body control and athleticism involved in the vertical jump, which also makes it appealing to coaches.
Broad Jump: The Broad Jump is also a measure of an athlete’s lower extremity explosiveness.
However, unlike the vertical jump, the athlete is required to propel himself laterally, as well as vertically.
The upper extremities, lower extremities and trunk must all work in unison, and all must contribute maximally to achieve a successful jump.
The Broad Jump also requires an amount of skill and coordination, which is why it has stood the test of time as a standard combine test.
Bench Press: The Bench Press is the last physical test performed and is reflective of an athlete’s upper body strength.
The NFL combine has each athlete perform 225 pounds for a maximum number of repetitions. Due to the various ages and strength levels of high school players, Xcel allows the athletes to choose 155 pounds, 185 pounds or 225 pounds and perform the maximum number of repetitions.
It is important that accommodations are made for athletes who are still growing and maturing to help prevent injuries.
It is also important, from an evaluation standpoint, that athletes have some level of measurable achievement so they can be compared to other athletes.
It does not help coaches to evaluate players if everyone uses 185 pounds and many players cannot perform any repetitions at all while others may perform 20 or more. An athlete should be able to pick a weight that will allow him to perform between 8 and 15 repetitions giving a maximal effort.
Bench Press weight and repetitions are recorded.
Combines can perform a valuable function to coaches, athletes and parents. College coaches will benefit by being able to compare athletes equally across many states. They will have the ability to evaluate large numbers of athletes in a very efficient way. Coaches also will be able to see more athletes than their recruiting budget would typically allow if they had to physically travel to see each athlete in person.
Athletes will benefit by having their information viewed by many coaches in geographical areas they wouldn’t ordinarily be recruited in. Athletes will also have opportunities to receive a college education while being able to play the game they love.
Parents will benefit when their son earns scholarship offers from colleges to pay for their education.
College athletics can play a very important part in any young man’s life. It provides many “life lessons”, such as the importance of team work, a strong work ethic, the importance of academics, as well as friendship and camaraderie. Playing college football places you into a fraternity with other players and will forever be a badge that you will wear proudly.
There are many factors that affect if and where an athlete will play collegiately. Focus on the right fit when selecting a college, taking into consideration all factors, not just football. Selecting a college and career will affect not only the few years an athlete plays sports, but the many years beyond that as well.
Xcel Sports Training Football Performance and Recruiting Combine
Xcel Sports Training’s Performance and Recruiting combines have helped thousands of high school athletes improve their visibility and take the first step toward advancing their football careers at the collegiate level.
After Xcel’s staff had been involved with the NFL combine for over ten years, the idea to bring the same opportunity to high school players was a natural progression. It was decided that a similar service could be provided to college coaches in order to help them evaluate high school talent more accurately and efficiently.
The Xcel combine is a one-day, three-part event. The first part involves the physical testing of the athletes. The tests used are the same tests performed at the NFL combine. Because the NFL uses these same tests, athletes are able to be tracked that attend an Xcel combine, go to college, then eventually go to the NFL combine.
Xcel High School Football Performance and Recruiting Combine Locations and Dates
The tests have been established because they give the most accurate overall physical picture of each athlete. State-of-the-art electronic timing systems are used to measure the speed tests so there are no human errors or biases associated with the data. All of the Xcel combines are also run indoors, so there is no need to take into account grass, cleats or weather variations.
Testing is the basis of any combine because it provides the numbers given to college coaches. All Xcel combines are performed in exactly the same manner, under the same conditions, so any athlete can be compared to any other athlete in any state that attends another Xcel combine. This ensures college coaches that the numbers have been collected by non-biased clinicians in the most accurate way possible. Xcel has eliminated as many variables as possible in order to create the most objective data.
The second part of the combine involves instructing athletes in performance enhancement techniques. Xcel Sports Training is a group of physical therapists, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning professionals, and is dedicated to providing athletes with education and cutting-edge training techniques designed to prevent injury and optimize performance.
The last part of the Xcel combine involves educating the student-athletes and their parents/coaches. An educational seminar is presented by a national recruiting expert to everyone in attendance regarding the recruitment process, the NCAA rules, the clearinghouse, the importance of academics, as well as other topics related to participating in collegiate athletics. The potential student-athletes are educated on what colleges are looking for and ways to improve their visibility.
Athletes are encouraged to be proactive in their own recruitment, focusing on the right fit when it comes to choosing a college. Prospective students need to take into account many factors, such as academics, class size and teacher-to-student ratios. This educational presentation has proven to be a very beneficial resource for everyone that attends.
The test information for all Xcel combine athletes is compiled and put into a spreadsheet format, which is sent directly to every football program in the country, in every division (DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, NJCAA). The college coaches are then able to sort the information by any category they choose. The athletes’ names, grade point average, year of graduation, and positon(s) played are also on the results spreadsheet which the college coaches receive. Because Xcel truly standardizes all of their combines and tests, the coaches are able to compare athletes all over the country, efficiently and equally.
Xcel also creates an individual profile for each athlete. That profile includes their picture, which is taken at the combine, academic information, high school coach contact information, awards and honors received, season stats (tackles, rush yards, touchdowns, etc.), as well as their combine test information.
All athlete profiles are posted on Xcel’s website and are available for anyone to view at no charge. Each profile is a one-page document which the athlete can also print out and use as an “athletic resume” when communicating with the college recruiters. The profiles are important for the college coaches once they have identified specific athletes they want to pursue based on the test results.
There are never any hidden fees at an Xcel Sports Training combine. All of the services are provided to every athlete that attends, with no advantage to anyone. There are no extra packages to purchase that will provide more exposure than the next athlete. Everyone gets the same opportunities. Athletes can register online at www.xcelsportstraining.net.
Xcel Sports Training performs football combines in many states throughout the country. They also have developed combines in other sports, with the same thoroughness and attention to detail that has made them the industry-standard for football. Information on any of the Xcel Sports Training Performance and Recruiting Combines can be found at www.xcelsportstraining.net or by calling 608-279-6960.
Feel free to contact us at any time with any questions you may have. I hope this information has been helpful and wish you and your team the best of luck this season.