Archive » February 16, 2012
Combine shines light on Central Coast
By Willis Jacobson, Staff Writer
Since he began working with high school and youth football players after his own seven-year NFL career, Greg Bell said he’s heard too often the Central Coast referred to by college recruiters as a “black hole” – an abyss often passed over on the way to Los Angeles or the Bay Area.
On Feb. 11, Bell and several other former NFL players and high school coaches came together at Santa Ynez Valley Union High to help rid that label and shed some light on the area.
Bell, through his Athletes For Life foundation, hosted a youth and high school combine on the Pirates’ home field on a chilly, windy Saturday afternoon.
About 45 players attended the event and close to half of those were high school players. The high school athletes were timed and measured in several combine events, including the 40-yard dash, 10-yard shuttle, vertical jump and weight throw, while the middle school players went through agility and position-specific drills.
“The game of football has kind of gone toward the elite, as opposed to just being a good athlete, and (recruiters) use these kinds of programs to find that elite kid,” said Bell, who was a Pro Bowl running back in 1984 with the Buffalo Bills. “There are kids getting scholarships to Division I schools based just on what they did in a combine. It’s a barometer of talent and, if you’re a great coach, you can take that raw talent and turn that player into a great receiver or running back or whatever. They’ve been using these combines to do that, and for the most part, we don’t have them here on the Central Coast.”
There were just four Santa Ynez players among the high school contingent, a number that would’ve been higher, according to Pirates interim coach Josh McClurg, if the team had more advance notice of the event. McClurg said he found out about the combine only about 10 days beforehand, and Bell said that he got messages from several area players indicating they were unable to attend due to commitments with other sports.
Still, the coaches seemed pleased with the turnout and the players who were there appeared to get the most out of it. “It’s one of those things where the kids are more likely inclined to listen to those guys,” McClurg said of the former professional players. “They’ve been there and done it. (The kids) hear it from us coaches and their parents non-stop, but when they hear it from a guy that’s done it at the next level, I think it means a lot more to them.”
Mike Sherrard, who played 11 seasons at wide receiver in the NFL, said he got that same impression. Sherrard and Toi Cook, who played cornerback in the NFL for 11 seasons, worked mainly with middle school players on individual passing drills and techniques for receivers and defensive backs.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t meet any pro players or guys that played in the league, so for me to be around these kids, I think they appreciate it to a certain extent,” said Sherrard, who is currently coaching at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village. “I just want to share my knowledge.”
Bell, whose son took part in the combine, said he was also appreciative to have so many former pro players join him at the combines, which he is hosting throughout Southern California and the Central Coast. He said that getting these players’ names on the radars of college coaches and recruiters – and not just those in close proximity – is his ultimate objective. “You want to give these kids an opportunity,” he said. “When I talk to recruiters, sometimes they refer to the Central Coast as a ‘black hole.’ They’re going to find that diamond in the rough, but that’s probably going to be a (Pac-12) school. There are eight other conferences in the country that play a lot of football and give away a lot of scholarship money, so these kids cannot only play football but also get a college degree and learn something. That’s really the goal.”
In addition to a camp and passing program that he will be hosting in May, Bell said he is also trying to get 20 area high schools to compete in a seven-on-seven tournament, paid for by the NFL, in June at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The winner of that tournament would then move on to the national finals in Indianapolis.
“The NFL is trying everything it can to go grass-roots,” he said. “Now it’s time for the schools and the kids and the parents to be more involved. It’s not as scary of a sport as most people think.”