FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. — Two NFL draft prospects cheerfully rush to the computer table at the start of the 40-yard dash, looking for confirmation that they’ve just experienced something special. It turns out I did.
The computer reads: Eric Stokes, Georgia cornerback, 4,246. It was a very fast 40 meter sprint with a top speed of 22.8 mph.
A prospect yells at Stokes: Book your return ticket to Georgia. Your draft stock is about to explode.
Brandon Marshall, a 13-year NFL receiver and founder of Athletes Home Training Center, then took the floor: Such a big boy moves. Make some money, boy. Don’t tell me you move like that.
Stokes’ 40, recorded by the same company (Zybek) as the NFL’s recruiting athletes, was the top figure at Marshall’s first HOA Combine (March 3-5). The event provided a platform for 16 pre-designers – all trained at the HOA facility in Weston, Florida – to conduct joint field trials and exercises. The event of the 5th. March was released online and the footage was sent to every team in the NFL.
Opening day for Georgia CB Eric Stokes here at #HOACombine scored a 4.24 40-yard dash with laser speed and 22.8 top speed. Recorded by Zybek, the company used for the Indy Scouting Combine.
I found him just after the race: pic.twitter.com/fxqsX6BbAd
– Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) March 5, 2021
In a year without a central harvester, the HOA has learned the perspectives needed to answer questions and open eyes.
I don’t care if we’re both third years. Round 2. Go around. Even if it’s just one, we’ve done our job, Marshall said. I was the last one invited to the competition. Coaching teams gave me the opportunity to be recruited when no one knew who I was. That was all I needed. All they need is a chance and attention.
Marshall and his wife Michie invested $10 million to build an impressive training facility for the CSA, which opened in October 2019.
From January to March this year, the candidates were housed, fed, trained, medically supervised and prepared for interviews, all in a project led by noted training director Mo Wells from 22 to 30. When not on duty, 50 to 60 professional athletes train at the facility.
This combination is a new outlet for Marshall in his pursuit to help athletes with their physical and mental health.
But placing the combine was not easy. Marshall said it was very difficult to convince top players to come because agents wondered if the test numbers were official or if players were injured. North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance and Clemson running back Travis Etienne were the main outgoing HOA candidates who elected to wait to turn pro.
But Marshall didn’t hold back.
That’s a start. I would love to partner with the NFL and be a part of what they do from a regional association standpoint, Marshall said. Not everyone is Brandon Marshall, who gets an invite two weeks before the Combine. I like what the NFL is doing at the regional level. I want this addressed.
Stokes isn’t the only one who has had his stock helped combine by the HOA. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith and Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers also practiced well in hopes of increasing their stocks.
Monday is rarely mentioned in the top 5 QBs drafted in the first round. The trick will pass, but he may be the most intriguing and talented quarterback in the secondary. On Monday, the best quarterback to ever play in the HOA combine showed off his personality, as well as a swinging arm throw to Rodgers and Smith.
Personally, I don’t think I get the respect I deserve. I keep trying to prove them wrong. I want to show the league that I understand myself, Mond said. A lot of people didn’t think I should be at the Senior Bowl and I won the MVP award. I came here because I knew Mo was the best in the world. Brandon was in our shoes, he is super sincere and is a great success. The facility has all the resources to learn about the NFL, recovery and mental health training and a good workout is great.
Iowa WR Brandon Smith followed with a 44 vertical jump that would have earned him second place at last year’s combine. #HOACombine pic.twitter.com/LWpOmqWMiW
– Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) March 5, 2021
Marshall calls Monday to steal the service. Former NFL coach Hue Jackson was Mond’s personal QB coach in HOA and says Mond’s arm is more talented than people think and ultra-smart. Jackson believes that if Mond finds the right team, he has the skills that can make him an NFL starter.
Smith had the best overall numbers in the HOA test (11-4 broad jump, 44-inch vertical jump, 22 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press), and would all be in the top three wide receivers in 2020. Combine. Smith (6-foot-3, 80 pounds) also sprinted 4.56 meters. Smith’s 2020 season, in which he was injured and played with a redshirt sophomore quarterback, was not as good as his 2019 season, in which he had 439 yards and 5 TDs, but his athletic upside could convince a team to dive in early on the third day of the draft.
Rodgers is a physical, productive slot receiver who has yet to receive the same attention as his college counterparts Trevor Lawrence and Etienne.
I want to prove I’m a good long distance runner. I couldn’t show it to Clemson, Rogers said. It’s about showing your skills.
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Rogers did this by running the most impressive routes and showing consistent hands in field exercises. He also did 24 reps in the bench press.
Marshall plans to share these successes with the NFL and hopes that when the combine returns to Indianapolis, the HOA will have the opportunity to become a bigger player on the regional combine stage. CUW is one of several training centers in the country that specialize in the development of professional and collegiate athletes, including ECSOC, which also hosted a combine for some of its aspirants this year.
Marshall also says he plans to open additional HOA facilities in Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles next year.
What Brandon has created here could be the new wave, Jackson said. It can be a blueprint – they put people in a position to succeed.
Marshall added: When it’s done, I hope agents, players and the league will see that this is something we need to support.
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