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Chasing the NFL Dream — And living to talk about it
We’ve all sat there on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and wondered: Am I faster than that offensive lineman?
It doesn’t matter if you watch football for the love of the game or the points from the players. Everyone, from the biggest fantasy football nerd to the Las Vegas gambler or mother and father spending time with their children, has seen a lineman pick up a loose ball or perhaps catch a pass and start rumbling the other way.
It seems to take an eternity between steps. You begin to question the word athlete and its association with that player. And then, just when it looks like they’re about to kick it into top gear, they’re either tackled, tripped, stripped or scoring and it’s over.
But the image sticks with you. Let’s face it. We all like to believe that we can do something — anything — as well as the collegiate and professional athletes who play the games we love. I, for instance, know in my heart that, even as a third-grader, I would have made that play at first base in the 1986 World Series that Boston Red Sox goat Bill Buckner botched. The list goes on.
Thursday afternoon, I came the closest I’ll probably ever come to finding out just how realistic these fantasies are.
They’re not. At all. And I’m living proof — barely.
Not more than an hour after introducing myself as the new KU football writer in my blog earlier in the week, I received an e-mail from Joseph Potts — a former KU football player, himself — who owns Top Speed Strength & Conditioning, a sports performance enhancement service that specializes in speed and agility training and NFL Combine/College Pro Day preparation.
In the e-mail, Potts invited me to join former KU long snapper Kayl Anderson at a workout so I could get a taste of what these guys go through. I was pumped. What a great way to enhance our combine coverage. Better yet, what a great way to finally answer that question about how my skills — or those of any other average Joe — would stack up against real athletes.
Potts assured me that he’d go easy on me and said we’d run through some of the drills that Anderson — and others like him — do on a weekly basis to improve their speed. The weight-lifting portion of Anderson’s training takes place on different days and it was no accident that I missed those.
After watching a video that Potts had sent in the e-mail, I decided this would be fun. Most people who know me decided it would be torture. As it turned out, it was somewhere in between.
Before I go any further about me, let me tell you about Kayl Anderson.
Anderson, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, was the Jayhawks’ long snapper for the past four seasons. After arriving at KU out of Tulsa, Okla., in 2005, he red-shirted and began to fine-tune the skill he first picked up in sixth grade. It wasn’t until his eighth-grade season, however, that he really began to shape himself into a sound long snapper. By his ninth-grade season, Anderson had completely devoted himself to his trade.
“I was always too small to play offensive line,” Anderson said. “So I was looking for the quickest and easiest way to start for the varsity team (at Bishop Kelley High) and that was it.”
Anderson broke into his high school squad’s starting lineup as a sophomore and stayed there until he graduated. Anderson said his long-snapping pedigree played a huge part in earning him a spot at KU, which came, first, as a preferred walk-on and eventually led to a scholarship. After red-shirting in ‘05, he became the team’s full-time long snapper as a freshman and played in all 12 games in 2006. He played the same role during the next two seasons — playing in all 26 games — and wrapped up his career by playing 10 of 12 games in 2009.
Since he was young, Anderson always dreamed of playing professional football. He said he first allowed himself to believe it could happen when he became KU’s long snapper and received the following message from an old coach: “Congratulations on starting in college, now you need to learn how to get paid for playing.”
“It’s definitely a career goal,” Anderson said. “Playing football and getting paid for it, that’s the ultimate.”
Like dozens of college players in his position, Anderson has spent the weeks since the season ended working toward his school’s Pro Day. On March 10, a handful of NFL scouts will be in Lawrence evaluating the KU players with pro potential.
Although he doesn’t expect to be picked during this year’s NFL Draft (April 22-24), Anderson said he hopes to catch on with an NFL club via free agency. The fact that NFLDraftScout.com has him listed as the fifth-best long snapper available only helps his cause. Another thing Anderson has going for him is the support of former NFL special teams coordinator Gary Zauner, who runs a free agent specialists combine and invites only those players he feels have a shot to make it to join him in Phoenix.
“That’s a huge plus,” Anderson said. “Having him pushing your name is huge.”
OK, back to my workout with Anderson and Potts.
Look, I’m not foolish enough to think that playing basketball a couple of nights a week and being in generally good shape means that I can hop right out of my car and into an NFL-caliber workout. But for some reason, I tried.
After he led me through a dynamic warm-up, which, in itself would’ve qualified as a legitimate workout, I did all of the drills that Potts put Anderson through. The first was a tennis ball drop from both three and five yards away. The idea was to react to Potts dropping the ball and explode through the zone, grabbing the ball before it bounced twice. I got it a couple of times and missed it the rest.
Then we moved on to working on our speed bursts. This, they tell me, helps your 40-yard dash, because most 40s are made or broken in the first 10 yards. We worked on the start, worked on loading the front leg, pumping your arms and keeping the legs, feet, shoulders and torso aligned and moving forward. We did this a handful of times until it looked right and then moved on to the same drill but with resistance bands involved. Same drill here as before, but the resistance changed things up and made me work even harder.
Then came the monster drill: Resistance bands and speed burst for seven yards, followed by high knees and a strong finish for the final three. Before we began, Anderson warned me that this drill was the most intense. “This is a killer,” he said. I believed him then. I believe him even more now.
I did it four times, each time driving and kicking as hard as I could, as if Turner Gill were there watching and I was auditioning for a starting spot. Again, I’m not dumb enough to think I can do this, but for some reason I just got lost in the moment. Credit Potts’ training — this guy could make anyone feel like a freight train — and Anderson’s support for that. Thanks, guys.
After the fourth and final “killer,” I was beat. I felt OK physically, but I was winded and needed a rest. I took a seat on the bench and watched Anderson shift over to a drill that had him drag 45 pounds of weight behind him while going through the same 10-yard burst. The guy’s a machine. And sitting there watching him made me realize the difference between little ol’ me and a finely-tuned athlete. It’s not so much the speed these guys run with that is incredible. Anderson’s fastest 40 is around 5.1 seconds, which isn’t that much faster than mine. But the power that he runs with is insane. When I run fast, it’s because I’m trying to. When guys like Anderson — or Darrell Stuckey, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, all of whom are going through these kinds of battles at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis right now — run fast, it’s because they’re harnessing raw power and using it in the most efficient manner possible. It really is a sight to behold.
So there I was feeling pretty good about myself when I started to slip. First I became light-headed. Then, after standing up to try and take in more oxygen, I blacked out completely. For 30 seconds — maybe longer — all I heard was voices and all I saw was black. To my credit, I didn’t completely pass out and I didn’t hit the floor. I didn’t even have to use the trash can that Potts wheeled in, saying, “There’s no shame in losing your lunch, man, so if you need it, it’s right here.”
I was hurting. But I wasn’t out. And as far as I recall, I didn’t ever completely lose consciousness. To be honest, I was pretty surprised with how calm I stayed. Again, credit Potts and Anderson for that. They were great. Instead of making me feel like a wimp, like they easily could have, they did whatever they could to make me feel better.
After about 10 minutes, I did. And I came away from the experience with a whole new appreciation for college and professional athletes. These guys do this kind of stuff — and more — every single day. Unreal.
Needless to say, I’ll never again sit there and think that I can outrun an offensive lineman or any other professional athlete. I got my shot.
Now, as for my 5.31-second 40 time, I have no doubt that what I learned on Thursday will drop my time at least a tenth of a second the next time I hit the turf. At this rate, I’ll be running a 5.19 before summer time.
I know my first couple of blogs have been a lot about me, but I promise they won’t all be. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to show you what these guys go through and just how physically demanding it can be. Check back soon for more blogs about KU football. There’s plenty to look forward to.