Back in 1996 I received a call from the father of a prospective top-round NFL draftee who said he was interested in me representing his son: "One last question -- what is your training program?"
The question took me aback. We didn't have a training program.
"From 1989 to 1995 I represented the very first pick in the first round of the NFL draft," I said. "Can we agree it is not possible to go higher in the draft than that? They all stayed on their campuses, used their college coaches, the strength coach, and were in charge of their own training."
The father replied, "Sorry, but we found an agency that has a training facility and we are going to use them."
That was the year that a booming new industry was born -- a hyper-competitive nationwide set of facilities specializing in the training of college football players to excel in the testing process leading to the NFL draft.
Virtually every single college football player hoping to be drafted in April is heading to a training facility now that college bowl games are over for all but two teams. They will live in a variety of housing adjacent to the facility. Nutrition has evolved into a highly specialized science. Food is seen as a tool to promote energy and endurance. Players are screened and tested for food "allergies" and individualized diets are prepared. Some players are looking to gain healthy weight, others to lose. All want their bodies to appear more muscular and "cut." Meals are actually delivered to the facilities at the appropriate times so all guess work is eliminated.
The most important testing event of the scouting season is the NFL Combine held in Indianapolis in late February. Players are given a comprehensive physical. The training facilities have trainers on site who can help players rehabilitate injuries incurred during the season and spot weaknesses before the combine.
There are testing drills -- the all-important 40-yard dash, a vertical leap, a broad jump, repetitions of lifting at 225 pounds and lateral drills. Much of the training is to help players excel at these drills. A tenth of a second decrease in a 40 time can lift a player up in the draft.
Teams hold 20-minute interviews with players at the combine, and the training facilities prepare players for possible questions and answers. An intelligence test is given, and players are prepared to take it. Players are prepped for the fatigue factor inherent in the three to four days of a grueling schedule at the combine.
Players are also given a chance to perform at their position at the combine. Position specific coaching is key.
Quarterback training has become a valued subspecialty. Pro scouting day is generally held in March or early April on the college and repeats all of the same drills as the combine. A 40-minute throwing session on the campus displaying a variety of passes with the ball never touching the ground can be the centerpiece of a quarterback's elevation in the draft. Steve Clarkson was the original QB guru and prepared Ben Roethlisberger. George Whitfield worked with Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, Bill Cunerty prepared Andrew Luck. Cree Morris, Tom House, and many others coach footwork, technique, and chalkboard.
The expense for training is now generally paid by player agents. This added expense, the lowest fee cap in all team sports, and a salary cap makes the representation of lower round draft picks a risky proposition. It will take a minimum of $10,000-$20,000 up front to fund a draftee's training and expenses.
Many of the athletes who go through draft training continue their relationship throughout their career and use the same training facilities in the offseason. Players in other sports like baseball and basketball use the same facilities. This has become a big business, and players benefit from increased health and longevity.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.