By Chris Chaney
Local high school football players will have a unique opportunity to this weekend to greatly improve their recruitment stock when the Elite Athletic Events hosts a football combine at Bethel-Tate High School on Sunday, May 19.
Any college or professional football fan is familiar with the word “combine.” When you hear it, you immediately think of the top college football prospects in the nation, draped head to toe in Under Armour gear, running 40-yard dashes in Indianapolis for a plethora of NFL scouts who overuse other words like “upside,” “explosive” and “motor.”
While the spectacle of the NFL Combine has gained mainstream traction in recent years, college recruiting has stepped up as well. More people want to play collegiate and professional sports than ever before.
What Kevin Fitzgerald, the founder and CEO of EAE, uncovered was the need for a recruitment tool that isn’t based on word of mouth. Fitzgerald’s idea for the company came as off-shoot of his duties as the strength and conditioning coach for various college programs such as Florida State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.
“When I was at Florida State, one of my duties every year was to organize and execute our NFL Pro Day,” Fitzgerald said. “I was familiar how to organize it and how to run our guys through the testing and position-specific drills. And even though the scouts would be there, they would always ask for a video at the end.
“That always struck me. The video was the most important thing. (Scouts would say) we need to confirm what we just saw was really what we just saw.”
This is where Fitzgerald generated the idea to fill a need. With recruiting and scouting rules vastly different in terms of NFL teams scouting college prospects and colleges teams scouting high school prospects, Fitzgerald began EAE as a way to run prospective high school players through a combine-like workout that would give the concrete evidence to send to college coaches.
Per NCAA rules, college coaches are prohibited to attend such workouts.
“In the past, college coaches have always had to rely on word of mouth,” Fitzgerald said. “They had to rely on (the fact that) the organization that is running the camp is reputable, that they’re doing the right thing for both the player and the colleges. Long story short, they don’t come through.”
Because of the competitive nature of college recruitment and without hard evidence to support their claims, Fitzgerald said any time or statistics he and his program would receive from high school athletes or coaches would be adjusted.
“The generalization is any combine that a kid goes to, we’re going to add time onto his 40-yard dash because from kids that have come to the programs I’ve been at, what we’ve been told they ran and what they run when we tested them, they were always faster at the other places,” Fitzgerald explained. “They were always faster and always bigger for some reason, but when they came to us, they were a little bit slower and a little bit smaller.”
As a result, the athletes who are accurately recorded at these individual workouts get penalized because of the automatic adjustment made from the lack of trust that exists between college programs and the combines reporting the times.
Fitzgerald said that many of the athletes and coaches at the high school level don’t really know that. He called it an unwritten rule among college programs that if there’s not video evidence, they don’t believe the times and stats reported at face value.
EAE Combines alleviates that uncertainty by recording each player’s workout, giving him or her the opportunity to use that as his or her own recruiting tool.
Fitzgerald says his organization is in no way affiliated with recruitment in terms of getting players looks from colleges. Simply put, they create an unbiased and impartial record of what each athlete does. It is then up to the athlete and their family to determine how they want to use the footage.
“By doing the combine properly, I can tell the coaches to trust me, but it’s all trust by verifying” Fitzgerald said. “I have no problem with (a coach) grabbing a stopwatch and watching that video up on our website and they don’t have to trust me right away, but when they retime (an athlete) themselves, they’ll be comfortable (with what we’re doing).”
The camp, which will take place from 1-6 p.m. on Sunday, is open for registration for all athletes of high school age. Fitzgerald said athletes come multiple years in order to have an understanding of what to expect and how to perform their best.
Each athlete will receive a combine jersey, which is a shirt with a number on it and a copy of their edited combine video that they can send out to schools at their discretion.
The price is $75 for early registration or $100 on Sunday. For more information on the combine and Elite Athletic Events in general, visit the organization’s website at eliteathleticevents.com.