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February 20, 2006

The Will to Prepare - The Road to the NFL Combine

While last month's epic Rose Bowl brought the college football season to a close, it marked the beginning of a whole different season for the game's best athletes - preparing for the NFL Draft.

From January to late April all draft-eligible players get in shape to impress their would-be pro suitors. At the NFL scouting combine, beginning February 22, players are evaluated on their size, speed, and strength, hoping to improve their draft value with an impressive display of football skills and athleticism.

Increasingly, college players are turning to professional workout coaches to help them prepare for these job interviews. Tom Shaw is one of those coaches.

He has run his own performance training camp since 1993 and has helped 77 players become first round picks including Michael Jenkins and Jason Campbell, recent players who jumped into the first round because of great workouts for pro scouts. This year, Shaw has convened a new crop of athletes and is fully entrenched in getting them to the top of their game for the combine and beyond.

An assistant track coach and the speed and conditioning coach at Florida State University for ten years, Shaw opened Tom Shaw Performance Enhancement in New Orleans after being a part of FSU's 1993 National Championship team. He has also been a consultant with the New Orleans Saints and the speed and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots. His resume includes working with the likes of Deion Sanders, Tom Brady, and Michael Vick.

Damage from Hurricane Katrina forced Shaw to temporarily move his operation to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando for this year's training camps. Using Disney's $70 million facilities including ten football fields, Shaw spends his morning workouts emphasizing form and technique to improve speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness.

He also drills his athletes on the tests they'll undergo at the combine - the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, vertical jump, and bench press. Shaw's goal is to lower 40 times by two-tenths of a second and add five reps to their all-time best in the bench press. Athletes spend their afternoons doing position specific drills with some of the NFL's best.

"We're doing the things that make them better football players, the things they'll be doing when they get to the NFL. Our overall goal is to help kids make their football team," Shaw says.

To make his camp full service Shaw brings in several of his pro clients to teach the college kids. Sanders works with the defensive backs, Brady with the quarterbacks, and Super Bowl XL champ James Farrior of the Steelers with the linebackers.

"It's better when you hear instruction from someone who's been there," says Shaw. "We've got Torrance Small working with the receivers and he can tell them 'this is how it's supposed to be' because he played ten years in the NFL."

One of those receivers is Ohio State junior Santonio Holmes, a projected first round pick. He is attending Shaw's camp to lower his 40 time and to learn the nuances of his position. He chose to work with Shaw because Shaw, "knows the NFL - he worked with the Patriots when they were winning Super Bowls. He knows what the scouts are looking for."

Holmes has also benefited from Small's tutorials. "We're learning the little things to be a great receiver at the next level," Holmes says.

"I'm also learning the techniques of the defensive backs so I'll have an advantage when I get to the NFL." And who teaches him about defensive back tendencies? None other than Sanders, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who has trained with Shaw since his sophomore year at FSU in 1986.

"I'm here to help, to give back," Sanders says. "I want to pass on my knowledge, help the younger guys prepare to play at the next level."

He also admits that it helps to train while he teaches: "I'm working on my speed and conditioning. I've got to stay up with the young guys in the league."

This year's class includes some of the highest rated prospects in the draft. "I have ten or 11 guys who could go in the first round this year," says Shaw.

Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler and Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, projected top ten picks, were among 17 players Shaw worked with who played in the Senior Bowl.

Shaw also plans to train Heisman Trophy winner and consensus first overall pick Reggie Bush of USC before Bush's individual workout in March.

"This group of guys is without a doubt my best class in all the years I've been doing this. No one complains, they all work hard and they all want to get better. You can't ask for more than that," Shaw says.

These character attributes are valuable commodities to NFL coaches and general managers who are investing heavily in these first rounders. Shaw gets a first hand look at what kind of person the athlete is and what their work habits are.

"NFL coaches call me to ask about the players. They want to know if he's coachable, does he show up on time, does he understand the game."

After the draft workouts end, Shaw hits the road as part of the NIKE Football Training Camp tour, working with other SPARQ Trainers to provide the same expertise he gives to future NFLers to future college players. He also plans to get back to New Orleans and continue his work there soon. For now, though, he is happy to be in Orlando. "We've lost a lot, but it seems like everything is great now."

Shaw even has a sleeper prediction for all the draft fanatics out there: "Tavaris Jackson, the quarterback from Alabama State. He's raw, but he is going to be a star. He's got all the tools to make every throw."

Shaw should know. After all he is training Jackson, and giving him every chance to be prepared for the NFL.

Tom Shaw is a SPARQ master trainer and has been working the NIKE Camps since the camps inception nine years ago. For more information on his training programs, checkout www.coachtomshaw.com or sparqtraining.com.

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