- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

EUCLID, Ohio — Hidden behind a former General Motors plant is the training center where Ted Ginn Jr. refined his blazing speed.

It’s where Ginn, the Ohio State star and a sure first-round pick, has spent weeks leading up to the NFL Draft — training alongside Renard Stevens, a wide receiver from a Division II school in West Virginia.

Unlike Ginn, Stevens has no guarantee of being drafted. He knew, though, that a strong time in the 40-yard dash and an impressive vertical jump at the NFL scouting combine in late February could raise his stock and improve his draft chances.

Agents and athletes, looking to climb up team’s draft boards and cash in, have created a mini-industry for athletic trainers, spending millions of dollars in the weeks before the NFL Draft.

“It’s not an option now,” said Danny Arnold, founder of the Plex training center in Stafford, Texas. “Every agent has to send a player to a place like this. You end up spending the same amount of money on a first-round pick as you do a seventh-round pick.”

For players and their families, there’s much at stake, particularly in the first round — where falling a few spots can mean a much smaller contract. Agents, who get part of a player’s earnings, have a lot on the line, too.

Speed Strength Systems, just east of Cleveland, has been preparing athletes for the NFL combine since 2001. When founder Tim Robertson started, he had little competition.

“It’s a hot trend now, where everybody thinks that they can train athletes,” Robertson said after spotting Ginn on a bench press.

Agent Eric Metz, who represents quarterback JaMarcus Russell of LSU, considered a possible No. 1 overall pick, said his firm, LMM Management, is spending about $300,000 on training and expenses for 10 players in the weeks leading up to the April 28-29 draft.

He said the turning point in training players came in 1992 when John Fina, who was rated as the 33rd-best offensive tackle in the draft, moved up to be a first-round pick with the Buffalo Bills. Metz credits Fina’s pre-draft training for the dramatic jump. Fina went on to anchor the left side of the Bills’ offensive line for nine seasons.

“The [other] agents criticized us and said there was nothing to it,” Metz said. “Now they say, ‘Look how you ruined the business. Now we have to spend all this money preparing players.’ ”

It costs $5,000 to $15,000 to train for two months at Arnold’s facility, money typically paid by the player’s agent.

Robertson charges $75 a day to prep athletes for the combine and pro days. Athletes put in three to five hours a day, three to six days a week for up to eight weeks.

His star client, Ginn, has been training at Speed Strength Systems since ninth grade and credits his work there with helping him lower his 40-yard dash time from more than five seconds to 4.22.

“He can push you to be a first rounder,” Ginn said of Robertson.

On an 8-degree February day, Ginn was among 10 players listening to hip-hop and working out at the facility, far from the comfort of Ohio State’s workout facilities. The temperature inside was a chilly 60 degrees at Speed Strength Systems, where the padding is torn on some of the weight benches.

“It’s a factory,” Robertson said. “It’s that no frills Rocky mentality.”

Robertson has his athletes work with a dietitian — some need to lose weight, and others, such as Ginn, need to put some on.

“A lot of these guys don’t eat well. It’s a culture shock to them,” Robertson said.

He also provides training techniques geared to improve performance on each of the drills. For the 225-pound bench press — in which players lift the bar as many times as possible — Robertson has them train with an elastic band tied to the bar. He promises an average increase of five repetitions.

“It’s fun because everybody gets to motivate everybody. Everybody gets to push everybody,” Ginn said. “It wouldn’t be fun if you were just here by yourself, not having the guys around you to help you push. Me being a big name is really nothing, because we’re all going for the same goal.”

Stevens, who played at West Liberty State College, traveled about three hours from West Virginia to train at Speed Strength Systems. Although he said the investment has been worth it, he was a little unnerved when he drove past the stacked pallets, trucks and weeds outside.

“When I first got here, I was like: ‘Where am I going?’ ” Stevens said.

Players like Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra who surprised everyone with 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns for the New Orleans Saints last season, keep Stevens motivated to follow his dream.

“I’m going to chase it until my legs fall off,” Stevens said.

Some trainers make promises that give athletes false perceptions about their chances of turning pro or oversell results when at best they can shave only a few tenths of a second off a 40-yard dash time, Metz said.

“They try to make it into something where if you run fast, you get drafted high. That’s not the case,” he said.

While training facilities are expensive, there are cheaper alternatives for those without an agent or still in high school. An internet search shows training help available for as low as $24.95, plus shipping and handling, for the Adam Archuleta Workout Video.

Sold by Pro-Tect Management of Pacific Palisades, Calif., the video provides the training program that Archuleta, a Chicago Bears safety, used in “elevating himself from an undersized college walk-on to a first-round draft selection.”

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