|Thursday, February 21
Updated: February 26, 5:38 PM ET
Wealth is measured in tenths of a second
By Wayne Drehs
Kyle Turley calls it the $5 million line. He had just completed an impressive workout at the NFL combine and was seated on the RCA Dome floor when a league official began reading off each player's name and test scores.
"Son," the scout said, interjecting a rare editorial comment, "you made yourself a hell of a lot of money today."
While everyone else sat in jealous silence, Turley basked in instant gratification. After spending three months preparing for four days of grueling physical and psychological testing, he was so excited that his hard work paid off that he later missed his flight home.
"Everything was captured in that one sentence," said Turley, recalling the scout's words of four years ago. "I didn't say anything at the time, but I went back to my hotel room and was ecstatic. It was complete and total satisfaction, like preparing yourself for the most rigorous test you're ever going to face in life, this test you're all stressed about, and then answering every question perfectly."
When draft day came two months later, the New Orleans Saints selected Turley with the seventh pick in the first round. He says his meteoric jump from unknown first-round hopeful to Top 10 pick proved to be worth about $5 million.
Today, he's a poster boy for all that can go right if a player busts his tail at a preparation facility in the months leading up to the combine. Turley added 14 pounds of muscle, eventually tipping the scales at 309, and shaved a valuable tenth of a second off his 40 time to dip below 5.0, a football lineman's equivalent of breaking the sound barrier.
"He's one of the bigger success stories," said Mark Verstegen, who helped train Turley at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla. "For him to do what he did was more than impressive. And it paid off."
Long gone are the days of lifting weights in a high school gym and sprinting up a rocky hill to impress NFL scouts. Today's prospects shell out as much as $1,500 a week to improve their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses, all while becoming bigger, stronger and faster.
This time of year, mid-to-late February, is crunch time. The combine begins on Feb. 28, and much like a prospective lawyer or doctor would cram for the bar exams, these future pro football players do everything they can to shave a tenth of a second or two here or add a pound or two there.
"I love the fact that these guys have a chance to prepare," said Saints general manager Randy Mueller, who joined the team in 2000. "It tells you something about a guy who's willing to work in the offseason to change his body and improve his times. It only adds to a thorough evaluation."
How a player performs at the combine could be the difference between several picks, if not rounds, in April's draft. And that translates directly to the bank account, where a move of one slot can mean an extra million dollars in signing bonuses.
"In the minds of the coaches and general managers and all the decision-makers, (choosing to draft someone) is an investment," Turley said. "And they want a return on their investment. They want to know that this snotty college kid that they're going to give all this money to is going to continue to work after all the hype and all the attention."
Everything is broken down into multi-segmented elements. Slightest details are examined. In the 40-yard dash, trainers not only strengthen a player's calf muscles, but educate them on improving their posture, properly cocking their ankle and storing energy in the back of their calf for more power. All of it is videotaped so that even the slightest error can be identified and fixed.
"What we're trying to do is save five milliseconds in the amount of time it takes you to put your force in the ground and have your leg recover to a full range of motion," said Loren Seagrave, the current director of IPI. "If you get that corrected and save 1/100th of a second every time somebody puts their foot on the ground, their 40 time just got .2 seconds faster. And that's big."
At the combine, athletes are tested in not only the 40-yard dash, but the shuttle run, a three-cone run, a vertical jump, standing broad jump, bench press and a handful of other events. Fail to train properly, says Seagrave, and you could cost yourself millions.
"You're probably missing out, in our situation, on .2 of a second in the 40-yard dash ... maybe a half second in the three cone drill and 5-10 reps in your bench press," Seagrave said. "Your vertical will suffer, your standing long jump will suffer. You probably won't be as good technically, either. And it translates to money. On draft day, it's going to hit you hardest in your pocketbook."
"It was a lot. I made a lot of money," Petitgout said. "Certainly the money is there with each slot you go up. But that wasn't so much the motivation. I just wanted to be a first-round pick. For one reason or another, I was relatively unknown in college so I wanted to prove I was a first-round pick."
Former Hawaii receiver Ashley Lelie, whose stock is quickly climbing on draft analysts' charts, is training with Chip Smith at Competitive Edge Sports in Atlanta. Smith has a reputation for helping a player gain weight while improving his speed. He loves to tell the story of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who arrived at Competitive Edge a 235-pound safety with a 4.69-second 40 and checked in at the combine as a 262-pound linebacker with 4.49 speed.
"You should have seen the look on the scouts' faces the day he ran," Smith says. "They were in shock."
Lelie already has added 16 pounds to his now 202-pound frame, and he has dropped his 40 time to a blistering 4.26. Smith said he would like to see Lelie add three more pounds before the combine.
"It's why I get the guys to come here," Smith said. "It's a combination of explosive running and lifting based on Russian training principles. I have the same results with pretty much every guy. You know how they say athletes are getting bigger, stronger and faster? That's what we do down here -- create a new class of athlete."
"It's not like you're performing for some scout looking over the Pawtucket area," Seagrave said. "This is everybody. Strength coaches, front office people, everybody. And they're taking notes, scrutinizing you. It's about as dehumanizing as you can get. It's a huge psychological stressor."
That's why most combine prep facilities feature a sports psychology staff, designed to maximize an athlete's mental performance. In addition, current NFL stars who thrived at the combine, guys like Turley, Petitgout, the St. Louis Rams' Grant Wistrom and others, visit to tell this year's crop what to expect.
"It's one thing for it to come from us, but it's another to come from a player who's been there day in and day out and continues to get better and can pass his wisdom along," Verstegen said. "It's invaluable."
Turley remembers feeling a sorry for those who didn't have such advice in 1998. While his trainers instructed him to bring a duffle bag with water bottles, energy bars, Rice Krispie treats, stretching bands and massage sticks, other players showed up with nothing but sneakers, a T-shirt and shorts.
"Because I was so prepared, I almost became like a leader," Turley said. "Guys would follow me around trying to see what all I had. Then they'd keep asking me, 'Can I borrow this? Can I borrow that?' They had no idea."
Turley had an idea. He knew that if he did everything he was told in the two months leading up to the combine and just relax and show off his skills, he'd catch someone's eye.
As it turned out, it was the eye of then-Saints coach Mike Ditka. Watching Turley bounce around the RCA Dome floor, Ditka fell in love with Turley's work ethic. And despite initial reports that the Saints were going to trade up to select homegrown quarterback Peyton Manning, Ditka went for Turley, who has since blossomed into an All-Pro tackle.
An All-Pro tackle with an extra $5 million.
"Those two months, all that work, it made me what I was -- the first lineman taken in the draft," Turley said. "The Saints saw me as someone who put the extra effort in, who didn't just take for granted who he was. And not that I'm a little guy by any means, but sometimes, that supercedes the physical."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@ESPN.com.