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Performance centers such as Bradenton's IMG Academies get prospects ready for NFL combine

BRADENTON — Terrell Skinner, at 6 feet 2, 214 pounds, has good size, range and toughness.

But the Boca Ciega High and Maryland graduate was not deemed promising enough to be invited to this week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where pro football prospects are timed and tested by league scouts and general managers.

Instead, Skinner, a safety, will try to impress scouts and boost his draft stock during Maryland's pro day March 10.

It is the ultimate test, one where Skinner will be scrutinized and measured like never before.

With so much at stake, Skinner, along with a handful of prospects from all corners of the country, have come to the IMG Academies in Bradenton, where they are sharpening their combine-taking skills in a specialized training program.

"There is a (bigger) difference to going from high school to college than there is from college to the NFL," said Skinner, the St. Petersburg Times' 2004 Pinellas County player of the year. "In college, you get to pick where you are going. In the NFL, you have no idea.

"I want to run as fast as I can, jump as a high as I can and hope some team believes enough in my talent to take a chance on me. This training helps you with all the ins and outs and gets your mind right for what to expect."

Skinner was sent to IMG by Sportstars, the Manhattan-based agency that represents him. Sportstars reached an agreement this year to pay IMG to train the prospects it represents. The cost is $15,000-20,000 per player.

"The IMG facility provides everything an athlete needs, all on the same site," said Jon Perzley, one of Skinner's agents. "The program there sets players up for the combine and beyond."

In 1995, IMG became the first facility to train athletes specifically for the NFL combine. They have trained 25 first-round picks, including quarterbacks Tim Couch and Alex Smith and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

"The combine and pro days have evolved from physicals to a comprehensive performance that validates a team's investment in an athlete in every area," said Trevor Moawad, IMG's director of performance. "We look at all possible aspects, and the size and scope of this facility makes a difference."

The performance of defensive end Mike Mamula showed how training for the combine can work to a player's benefit. Mamula, a former Boston College standout, went from being a projected mid-round pick to a first-round selection, No. 7 overall, in 1995 by the Philadelphia Eagles after an impressive workout.

Since then, training facilities have become all the rage with plenty popping up across the country.

There is Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., (opened in 2001); Competitive Edge Sports in Atlanta (1995); and Tom Shaw's NFL Training Center in Lake Buena Vista (2005).

The latest is Michael Johnson's Performance Center, founded by the Olympic sprinting champion and world record-holder in 2007. The facility in McKinney, Texas, has trained first-round picks Darren McFadden, Michael Crabtree and Knowshon Moreno.

Former Largo High and Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster has spent the past two months at Johnson's facility.

"I'm just trying to work a lot on my speed," McCluster said recently.

Speed is a valued commodity at the combine and pro days. It is the first thing Skinner and others work on at IMG.

With the aid of a video camera connected to a laptop computer, the athletes get instant feedback. Pierre Browne, a sprinter who represented Canada in the 2000, '04 and '08 Olympics, and performance specialist Corey Stenstrup replay the videos, deconstructing the athlete's form into components they might not have considered.

From there, the prospects break down video, go through a battery of vision tests and work on drills designed for their position in the pros.

There is even an improv session to bring out the players' personalities and make sure their answers are not rehearsed when teams interview them.

"The philosophy is so much different than I expected," Skinner said. "I thought when I came down here to train I would be running gassers and doing gladiator workouts.

"But there is so much more involved. They don't leave anything out."

FAST FACTS

NFL scouting combine

Wednesday through March 2, Indianapolis. Live coverage daily on the NFL Network and nfl.com/combine.

Performance centers such as Bradenton's IMG Academies get prospects ready for NFL combine 02/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 5:18pm]

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