THE NFL COMBINE IS NOT THE ONLY COMBINE IN INDY THIS WEEK
For the 72 young—and some not-so-young—men who assembled inside the 10th Street Sports Center in Indianapolis on Thursday, the athletic tests they underwent were no different than those that will be administered at the NFL Combine this weekend: the 225-pound bench press, the 40-yard dash, the three-cone drill and others. The city and the tests would be identical, but the aspirations and likely the results will be somewhat more modest.
“I want our guys to come in and enjoy the day,” Jimmy Kibble, the founder of the National Scouting Combine (NSC), said on the eve of the event. “Don’t worry about who’s there and who’s not there. Come in, do your best and have fun.”
The NFL Combine invites the top 300 draft-eligible players to its event, including Saturday studs such as Heisman Trophy–winning running back Derrick Henry of Alabama and Butkus Award–winning linebacker Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame. Kibble’s event welcomes no-names such as defensive end Ali Aqel of the University of St. Francis (Joliet, Illinois) and running back Elad Covaliu of Saint Anselm College (Manchester, New Hampshire). Nearly all of Kibble’s campers are aspiring to catch on with a Canadian Football League (CFL) or AFL club, but like the titular character in the aforementioned musical, they are not throwing away their shot.
“Some of the guys who come here may be lucky to get one offer, while others may wind up getting a dozen or more,” says Kibble, who kicked for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers and New York Dragons of the arena league and later the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. “I’m not here to screw with people’s dreams and opportunities.”
While some of the participants at the NSC hail from major football programs (e.g., Mississippi State and Penn State), there is an Island of Misfit Toys aura to the group. Corey Adams, a former four-star prep defensive lineman, only started one game in four seasons at Arizona State due to chronic back injuries. Cedeno Patrick, a defensive back who has played in the arena league, is 32. Kibble knows little about defensive lineman Bernard Bongesse-Lokota of France other than that the 6-foot-1, 290-pounder “moves like a skinny guy inside a fat guy’s body.”
The one jaw-dropper inside the 10th Street Sports Center on Thursday was Terron Beckham, a personal trainer from New York City. A cousin of New York Giant Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Terron looks more like his twin—both men are 23—except with a more impressive physique. On Thursday, Beckham, a running back who only played parts of one season at Division III Stevenson University in Maryland five years ago, bench-pressed 225 pounds 44 times. That feat would be a record for all players who have ever attended the NFL Combine other than interior linemen.
“A guy like Terron, he’s got an opportunity to shake up the world after a day like today,” Kibble said after the event. “He’s chiseled, has a great deal of maturity, and by the way he performed you can tell he’s focused. He’s going to walk away with contract offers from the indoor league and the CFL, maybe even higher.”
Kibble was a two-time All–Big East punter who played in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, where his Hokies lost to Florida State for the national championship. The following summer he found himself in the Patriots’ preseason camp with another rookie, Tom Brady. Before New England’s first preseason game, he tore ligaments in his foot and was released. After bouncing around the minor leagues, he launched a graphic design company that morphed into a sports marketing agency, Beyond Sports Network.
“We held our first combine in 2010 at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.,” says Kibble. “We didn’t know what to expect. We had 42 guys preregistered, but 80 players showed up on the day of the event.”
One of those players was a fire hydrant–size running back from the University of New Hampshire named Chad Kackert. Only 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, Kackert had no hope of being tendered an NFL Combine invite. After news of his performance at Kibble’s combine began to circulate, he garnered a free-agent tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags would cut Kackert, but he caught on with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and by 2012 was their starting tailback. The Argos would win the 100th Grey Cup that season, and Kackert was named the game’s MVP.
“Someone like Chad is exactly why we’re doing this,” says Kibble, who had a staff of 12 assisting him in Indianapolis. “Sometimes, the difference between achieving your dream to play professionally and not is exposure. We wanted to give a platform to the players.”
The NFL Combine is first-class while Kibble’s combine is economy-class. All of the NFL’s invitees are flown to Indy and housed there at the league’s expense. Kibble charges each of his campers $75 to cover expenses. Players must secure their own travel and their own lodging—although Kibble was able to get his campers $65-per-night rooms at a nearby Holiday Inn Express, provided they did not mind having a roommate.