It's funny the things you find out about while waiting for your date to choose what Slurpee they want.
I ran across an article in the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun that advertised an NFL Combine-esque obstacle course for students to compete in. The fastest four times would advance to a final round at halftime of the spring game, where they could compete for free books the next semester. Since I graduate this coming May and don't particularly need the prize, I figured it would be something to do on a Thursday night. So, for the sake of #journalism, I put my body on the line, and accepted the challenge.
I was the second one to show up to the combine; the first person there was a former WMU football payer that is attempting to walk on to CMU. We tossed a ball back and forth for a little bit while waiting for the crowd to fill out a little bit. When 8 p.m. rolled around, the contestants gathered and we were explained the contest rules.
The rules of the game were actually pretty simple; the top two times for the men and women would go on to compete in a competition at halftime for the ultimate prize. Since no girls showed up, it became the top 4 times. The course was composed of three parts:
Part one: linebacker side shuttles and agility ladder
A drill normally done by linebackers, this particular shuttle drill had to be done while carrying the ball. A drop resulted in starting over, as did hitting said bar. For the agility ladder, the runner had to put both feet between each of the rungs of the ladder. There were no time penalties here, but not ensuring both feet went through was a disqualification. \
Part Two: Cart, Hurdle, and Sprint
Perhaps the hardest part of the drill was this section. First, one had to push a cart with 45 lbs. weights fifteen yards past an orange cone, a la an offensive or defensive lineman. After this, the dreaded hurdles. Both feet had to go over the gates, with only a hopping motion allowed. Knocking one down resulted in a time penalty. Then, suicide sprints, where the participant had to run five yards up, then five yards peddling back. I like to call this section the
holyf*ckwhereismylowerbody "jellylegs" section.
Part Three: Accuracy and Fumble Drill
This was the simplest drill. Al you had to do was throw the ball in the vicinity of the net, and then scoop n' score between two "defenders." However, this section, for it's simplicity, came with a lot of risk. If you missed the net, five seconds was added to the total time. If you made it in one of the three holes, five seconds was taken off.
When all the participants were gathered, I quickly figured out that I was out of my league. The other ten participants played multiple sports coming out of high school; the vast majority played football and basketball, although there was a good representation of former and current track stars at the combine. Free books will make anyone come out. Myself on the other hand? One year of track in high school. And I wasn't that great.
There's a reason I write about sports.
I decided to go last in the first round, as I wanted to get my stretches and Vines in for the sake of this article. Something I noticed immediately was that everyone seemed to struggle with the short green hurdles. I don't know if it was the height of the hurdles themselves, or if people were tired, but what was supposed to be a graceful bunny hop turned into an exasperated cartoonish jump where the legs would completely separate and land back on the turf. Another popular technique was to dive through the dummies in the scoop n' score drill as if the endzone was a pool and the dummies were the concrete edge on the deep end. It had pretty mixed results, as one person actually got pushed back by the dummies and had to get up and walk through them.
Anyway, it was my turn. Everyone else had spikes or cleats on. Seeing as I did not own a pair of those, I went through the entire drill barefoot. (Okay, I was in my socks. But still.)
The linebacker shuttles, thought they looked easy, were rather intense. There were multiple times where my height was a big disadvantage, as more than once, I had to slow down to prevent my legs from crossing into one another. I also had to look forward to the ladder as we went, which certainly didn't help matters.
The agility ladder was the part I hated the most. Being a theater kid, I should be good on my feet because of dance training and such, but really.... there's such a small space between rungs, and having to carry the ball while watching your feet sapped a lot of my focus, which resulted in my tugging up the ladder behind me at points.
The cart was an immense struggle. I remember running up to it ready to go, placing my hands on the handles, and then... nothing. I had pushed on the cart, but not well enough to get any movement. It didn't help that I only had socks on, so my grip was about as good as butter on a linoleum floor. I adjusted my stance and proceeded to kick the cart the last yard past the cone as I moved on.
The hurdles were actually the simplest part of the exercise and I made up a lot of time here. (At this point, I was about 20 seconds in.) I brought my feet together and jumped up, clearing the section in about three seconds. My being 6'4" probably helped a little bit here, to be honest.
Then, the dreaded suicides. I was feeling pretty good right up until this point. As I stopped to line up at the cone, I could start to feel the strain on my legs. But there was no mercy. Or clemency. Or reprieve. The running backs coach screamed at me to move and blew on his whistle. COME TO ME COME TO ME OKAY NOW BACKPEDAL BACKPEDAL GOOD NOW SPRINT GOOOOOOOO FASTER. The being yelled at certainly didn't help my anxiety, though I do admit that it actualy kinda helped. Even if my primary motivation was to get the hell out of there.
The throwing section, I paused for literally a second to take a breath, picked up the ball, did my best Matt Stafford sidearm impression, and moved on. As I ran past, I saw that it had bounced out of the hole. I was pretty pissed about that. I took it out on the practice dummies and drilled one with a truck move Bo Jackson would have been proud of.
I rolled into the endzone and spiked the ball, yelling as I had done what I had only thought impossible five minutes prior. I finished the pro-style combine... in under a minute. My official time was 45.18, good enough to finish 7th out of 14 participants, three of whom were DQ'd for one reason or another. I missed the final four by about three seconds and was fifteen seconds out of first place, but hey. Considering I only found out about it the night before, I'd say I didn't do half bad. I even received congrats from Coach Bono and his lovely wife Pauline, who was rather impressed I was able to do the entire thing with no shoes.
Now where's that #34 jersey? I'm ready to play, Coach.