SCARBOROUGH — Zac Ragot is a wrestling state champion from Washington Academy in East Machias.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound junior is also a member of the school’s outdoor track team, competing in the shot put, javelin, discus and 100-meter dash.
“I like to run,” he said. “I enjoy sprinting. I don’t enjoy long distances, so I don’t do the longer events, but I really like the 100.”
Yet as much as Ragot may like the 100, he hopes his athletic future is in football, which is why he made the five-hour trip from his home in Cutler to Scarborough High School recently to participate in Schuman’s National Underclassmen Combine.
The combine, modeled after what top college players undergo in front of pro scouts before the annual NFL draft, is the latest offseason activity available to high school football players around the country, joining 7-on-7 summer leagues as a way to extend their commitment to the sport beyond the fall season.
Nearly 70 players ranging from eighth-graders to high school juniors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia ignored rainy conditions to be tested in such events as the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press.
Players also competed in one-on-one and two-on-two drills that tested their positional football skills.
“I really enjoy football,” said Ragot, a fullback and middle linebacker on the WA club football team that will be joining the Eastern Maine Class C varsity ranks this fall. “So I thought this would be a good thing to show my talents and see what I could do.”
One benefit of the combine, which costs each pre-registered participant $89.99, is that the players’ test results are sent to every college football program in the country.
“In order for kids to obtain a college opportunity to play football, they have to have a third-party certification of times and numbers,” said Marty Brown, a former president of the Scarborough Football Club. He helped bring the combine to Maine for the first time last year and serves as the event’s local coordinator. “They need a certified 40 time, they need a certified bench press, all those things that a combine tests they need to have certified by a third party.
“We didn’t have anything in the state like this before, the closest combine was in Massachusetts. So it was my desire to bring something here and it just happened to be at the same time the NUC was looking to come here. It has worked out well.”
Also available to players the day before the combine are several preparatory events. For a $50 fee, players can participate in training sessions specific to the combine events as well as to their particular football positions, and parents also can have access to recruiting information.
Seeking exposure, experience
For former Calais High School standout Cam Shorey, now attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, the benefits of the combine were twofold.
After not playing football for two years in the aftermath of a torn anterior cruciate ligament during his sophomore season at Calais, the 6-foot-5 tight end wanted to get some baseline measurements as he resumes his career at football camps this summer with an eye toward playing in college after he graduates from Phillips Exeter in 2012.
The other benefit Shorey hopes to derive from the combine is getting his name out to more and more potential college suitors.
“Pretty much the main thing was the exposure, I’d say,” he said. “I’ll be doing football camps this summer, but these results will be sent to every college in the nation. A lot of the stuff that we do here will be what I’m doing at camps when those coaches are evaluating me, so I wanted to get a head start on that and try to learn what I can before I get there.”
Shorey also felt the relatively low-key atmosphere surrounding the Scarborough combine would work to his advantage during the testing, as opposed to the summer camps he plans to attend at Boston College, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia where he will be vying for coaches’ attention along with other athletes who hope to earn roster spots on those teams one day.
“There’s no pressure here, really,” said Shorey, a former Bangor Daily News All-Maine basketball player at Calais who also plays that sport at Phillips Exeter. “It’s just you trying to do your best and from that you take back what you need to work on and you can work on that between now and the camps you’re going to. Obviously the camps that you’re going to are the schools you’re interested in, so you want to perform your best for them.
“I’m definitely going to be more comfortable going into other tests that they’re going to put me through at camps from just knowing what I can do and being more confident with the techniques of doing those things. I think confidence is a big thing. When you don’t know what you’re doing it’s a lot harder than when you do know what you’re doing.”
Placement success pending
How successful the Scarborough event has been in its two years of existence in helping players achieve their dream of a college football career is hard to determine because last year’s oldest combine graduates are still high school seniors.
But Alex Seac, a senior from York High School who posted the top overall numbers in the 2010 Maine combine, says his participation helped him earn the chance to join the football program at Merrimack College this fall.
“This combine puts your numbers out there and gives you a lot of exposure,” said Seac, a defensive lineman. “It’s a good opportunity for even the unknown players to finally get a chance and finally come forward. It was attending events like this that got me the deal at the school that I’m going to.”
While others like Shorey and Ragot came to the combine to be tested for the first time, Seac opted to focus his offseason training on the specific combine tests in an effort to maximize his results.
“We prepared for nine weeks,” he said. “It was a nine-week program my uncle and I did. He trained me and we trained for nine weeks before this day and we trained hard. And I won three medals that day — highest vertical leap, most bench presses and D-lineman MVP.
“This stuff isn’t easy, so you definitely need to work extra at it.”
Brown agrees such preparation will help players boost their combine results — which perhaps could lead to an additional college coach or two taking note.
“You study for academics, you study for the SATs, and the combine is no different for kids who want to play college football,” he said. “You’ve got to be prepared. Really this isn’t the day to prepare, the preparation should come during the offseason because this is a chance to show what you have for talent.”
And while Shorey didn’t train for the specific events that were tested at the combine, his general training regimen paid off — he was named the camp’s tight end MVP and with that earned an invitation to an NUC-affiliated Ultimate 100 football camp on June 19 in New Jersey.
“Since basketball season ended I’ve been working about six days a week on my upper body and lower body and just getting my body ready for the skills we’re going to be evaluated on this summer,” he said. “Actually the only thing I didn’t have a feel for going in was the broad jump. I’d never actually measured that before, and it’s not something you do naturally in any other sport.”
Part of the reason for bringing a combine to Maine, Brown said, was to provide a more convenient testing environment for players from the region as opposed to requiring additional travel to participate at a larger event.
“To ask a kid to come from Rockport, Maine, to Boston, Mass., and have him feel like he could compete and feel confident in his ability to be there is a lot to ask of any athlete,” Brown said, “so here we’re getting kids from northern Maine, eastern Maine, western Maine and southern Maine. This is a good location, it’s not too intimidating for anyone and it’s just a good fit for the kids. They can come out and perform because they don’t feel that pressure.”
Brown hopes this event — whose turnout this year was dampened below expectations by both economic factors and inclement weather — will become more popular within the state’s football community.
“It’s our desire to grow this,” said Brown, who added that the NUC has committed to return to Maine next year, though perhaps later in the spring. “We’d like 150 kids in the morning and 150 in the afternoon, that’s really where we’d like to be because that would make for a well-rounded group and kids would have the opportunity to compete against the best and it would give them a better idea of the skill sets they have.”