MARTINSVILLE, N.J. -- Other than special-teams players, wide receivers and the guys who cover them, football players rarely break into a sprint. Yet every prospect coming out of college, from the slippery scatback to the behemoth linemen, is measured on his ability to cover 40 yards more quickly than his peers.
With so much riding on those players' times at private workouts, pro days and, most especially, the NFL Scouting Combine, it makes sense to train them.
Teaching prospects at the TEST Football Academy to make like Olympic sprinters is Ato Boldon, who owns four Olympic medals and a world championship.
"I am basically turning football players into sprinters for a while," Boldon says. "When we first talked about it, I didn't know how my expertise could be used."
Boldon then accompanied Brian Martin, CEO of TEST's academies in Florida and New Jersey, to the combine, and his eyes popped open wider than Calvin Johnson's get on a post pattern.
"My first thought: 'Oh my god, these guys are awful,'" Boldon said. "It was 95 percent their technique. It was bad. And I said, 'Now I understand why they want to bring me on board.'
"At the combine last year, my guys did not look like the others. By the end of the combine, I have the fastest guys."
That would include Patrick Peterson of LSU, who went fifth overall to Arizona and wound up tying a league record with four punt returns for touchdowns as a rookie, Stevan Ridley of LSU and Da'Rel Scott of the Super Bowl champion Giants.
This year, he is working with approximately 60 collegians, ranging from Notre Dame guard Trevor Robinson to Sherbrooke -- yes, in Canada -- receiver Simon Charbonneau. Many of his students will be in Indianapolis for next week's combine, but even more must impress at pro days held at school campuses, or in private workouts.
"The first few weeks, football players look at you like you are speaking a foreign language," Boldon says with a laugh. "My job is to get them to trust me, trust the system. I ask them to run in a way that makes no sense to them. Some of them are fast and have run high school track, but most of what high school kids are taught is completely inaccurate.
"We are making a little portion of their brains be sprinters; they are 100 percent football players, but for these purposes, they must learn the proper way to run."
Instead, Boldon seeks to make their running style and strides more efficient, eliminating any wasted movements, especially to the side and with the arms. He gets them early in the morning and, hopefully, by day's end he is seeing a more fluent, skillful sprint through improvement in technique, attention to detail and, Davis says, "lots of hard work."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press