By the time he was finished going through every test imaginable at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, wide receiver Ryan Spadola from Lehigh left a lasting impression on at least one renowned scout, Gil Brandt, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and now the man who basically runs the Combine. Brandt liked everything he saw from Spadola, starting with his time in the 40-yard dash (4.48 seconds) and the 3-cone drill (7th-best at 6.72 seconds) and sees him as one of those sleepers in the upcoming draft to keep an eye on.
Spadola was one of two wide receivers that trained with former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chris Chambers at his facility in Davie, The Chamber, the other being Mark Harris from Rutgers. Spadola gave Dolphins.com an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into his four days at the Combine from the moment he stepped off the plane. Here, in his own words, is Spadola’s personal diary:
“I would say for all the people that actually watch the Combine, it’s not what everyone thinks it is. There’s a lot more that goes into it behind the scenes than just the work on the field. The first three days they really have you running around. You’re working on four or five hours of sleep if you’re lucky and the whole time you’re running around listening to people doing repetitive things, you’re doing interviews and taking tests.
“Before you even get to run you’re just so drained physically and emotionally because of all the long days you went through, so when you get to Sunday it’s tough to grind yourself through that day. But at the same time it was a great experience because just to be considered among the top college athletes and to get this opportunity to pursue a dream that’s been something I’ve always longed for was awesome. To have the week come to a close and having had a successful week, words really can’t describe how I feel right now.
“Now I need to go onto the next step and keep chasing and I’ll look at how I did on video since I DVR’d the coverage, see where maybe I could have shaved off a few seconds here and there. I got a heads up about some of the commentary where they were calling me that beach volleyball player from Howell, New Jersey because of my blonde hair and my tan going on from working out down here in Florida. It’s always interesting to hear what those national guys say about someone like me coming from a small school and hopefully I opened some eyes.”
Day 1: Thursday, February 21st:
“Chris told us to go out there and do our thing and obviously he worked us out real hard and we felt prepared with the eight weeks of training we had. So we got up here in the afternoon and the first thing they had us do was they shuttled us right over to the hospital so we could go through all of the testing and all the proper protocols, doing X-rays and MRIs to get all of that stuff out of the way.
“In the evening we had a few meetings starting with an orientation welcoming us here, followed by interviews with scouts, coaches and general managers. Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens’ GM, spoke to us at the orientation and he basically said this is probably the most important part of your life. Everything you do you’re going to be monitored and watched and obviously this is a big investment for every single team so they want to see what type of character you have along with the way you perform on Sunday. So he told us this process is very essential but he also told us at the same time enjoy it, take everything in and realize this is a very, very important process.”
Day 2, Friday, February 22nd:
“They got us up at 4 in the morning for an early start and we had to weigh in and go through the Bod-Pod (where the player’s body fat was measured) and that’s what we had to get out of the way before we went through all of the medicals for each team. If any team wanted to have an MRI scheduled you were shipped about 30 minutes away to an MRI center to get that done.
“It was crazy. You would never think the weigh-in would be as important as it is but it’s run almost like a military routine. Everyone has to be single file and go to their correct spots and they’re having you do different things and pulling you in different directions. They just want to see how you compare to other guys and the little things about you that might separate you from someone else. So you go up on stage for the weigh-in and about a thousand guys are looking at you making sure that you’re in shape, that you weigh a certain amount and watching the way you walk and stand. It was pretty crazy to see that but it was a cool experience and it’s like a cattle auction combined with a swimsuit model walk down the catwalk.
“It’s just crazy to think that’s how serious it’s taken but it’s very important to them to see that you keep yourself in shape and you’re at the right weight so you can perform at the maximum of your ability. All of that plus the medical testing pretty much took up the bulk of the day and then the interviews continued into the evening. When I got back to the hotel I practiced some of my starts in the hall so it would feel natural to me on Sunday.”
Day 3, Saturday, February 23rd:
“We got to sleep in a little bit comparatively speaking, as they got us up around 6 a.m., and we were on our own for a bit. Then we did some psychological testing and aptitude testing and we did the bench press. I was shooting for anything above 15 reps (of the 225 pounds) and I got 15. Unfortunately, I thought the footing there on the platform was a little slick so I slipped a little early on and it made me work a little harder for the reps, but overall I thought I did pretty solid and was right in the middle of the group (10th).
“Everybody had been training for 8-plus weeks and it was good to get the previous two days out of the way so we could actually do some of the things we had trained for. I actually had some time to kill before the bench press so I sat in the room and watched the offensive linemen and tight ends get out there and do some on-the-field work and run their 40s. I like seeing that kind of stuff and I like seeing the competition so I’ve always watched the Combine coverage on NFL Network.
“I ended up doing my media obligation today because they had me running around late on Friday when the rest of our position group talked. We had the rest of the evening off so we could get ready for Sunday and be rested for our on-the-field drills, so I went over to the Nike and the Adidas place and got some more gear there. I kind of enjoyed some of the freebies, and then from there I went out with Mark Harrison and my agent and got a bite to eat and brought it back to the room and we just got off our feet for the evening. I did a few starts to get my legs moving a little bit and followed it up with a stretch just to make sure my legs were ready for (Sunday). That night was more of a recovery night getting ready for (Sunday).”
Day 4, Sunday, February 24th:
“They actually pushed us back a little and let us sleep until 7. The first group was a 6 o’clock wake-up and we were a 7 o’clock wake-up so we went downstairs and had breakfast, got ready to go and then we went over to the stadium to get ready for the day’s events. For breakfast I stayed mainly towards the carbs and didn’t put any proteins in. I stayed between the carbs and the fruits with some potatoes, a mixed fruit bowl and some French toast, just something that would be easy on the stomach, nothing too heavy, so when I got to the events later on I wouldn’t be cramping up or have any stomach issues.
“There was a lot of stuff that went on before we even got onto the field. They brought us into the stadium and we had to do a still and video shoot, I guess so they could see how our bodies looked or put a guy’s face to his body. I don’t know exactly what that was for but that took about 30 minutes and we sat around a bit in the hallways and then they finally brought us out on the field. The other group was still warming up for their 40s so we sat there for a bit, eventually started getting warmed up, finished warming up and all of a sudden we were standing around again waiting for the other group to finish their 40s.
“So then they had us to our flexibility testing and those kinds of tests, we relaxed again and all of a sudden we went to our jumps. There was a lot of warming up, hanging around and then trying to warm up again to get ready to go, so in the beginning it was a little inconsistent and you really didn’t know how to prepare too well to get yourself ready for the jumps. That’s where I feel I struggled the most was in the beginning getting myself ready, so I’ll probably repeat those at my Pro Day even though I matched up well compared to other players (33.5-inch vertical jump and 9 feet, 11 inches in the broad jump). Once the 40 got underway that’s when things kind of started moving more smoothly and you were able to keep your legs warm and that helped out the performance throughout the day.
“When you get into your 40 stance after they call your name you know all of your friends are watching back home waiting for that time to come up and all of that’s in the back of your mind. Then once you get down they have you hold for a three count and it’s amazing once you get down in your stance how long a three count actually is. That was a little thing I had to get used to on both of my runs and they had to call me back each of those times, but once you get that first one under your built you tell yourself the day’s underway. That’s when all of the nerves kind of disappear and you just go into game mode, but it was tough because you didn’t know your times until catching wind later on. Then we realized how fast a day it was for the receivers and to know I broke 4.5 and was in the upper part of the group makes me feel like the day was a success.
“Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk were on the field throughout the entire day, especially when we were doing our positional work. Michael Irvin was on the microphone explaining all the routes we were running and what the coaches were looking for on each route, so he was down there really involved throughout the entire process, especially with the receivers. He was on camera half the time, too, explaining things to the general public, so it was cool seeing Hall-of-Famers like that down there on the field with you. It was just crazy to think that you could potentially have a shot to get to the next level and play with guys that once played in that league before.
“The best part of the day was running the routes and the gauntlet and catching the passes from the different quarterbacks because that’s what we’ve been doing for years. It was an adjustment getting used to where the ball was being placed but I thought I did well, and then we split up to do the 3-cone, the 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles and the L drill. Your legs are fried by then bit I felt like I did well on those. It was definitely a great experience.
“When you’re finished you just want to sit on that bench and you don’t want to move after six hours of running around being on your feet because it takes a toll on your body and your mind. You just want to close your eyes and relax for a bit. But there was no time to really soak it all in because we had to hustle back to the hotel, get our bags packed, get everything ready to go, get a bite to eat and then catch a shuttle bus to the airport to catch your flight. Even when you’re finished they’ve still got you running around, so it’s no joke. When you’re in Indianapolis you’re working and they weren’t kidding about that.”