There is a new mastermind behind some of the best athletes in the world. I had the privilege of spending last weekend in San Diego with Ryan Flaherty, Founder and President of Prolific Athletes. What's that you ask? Prolific is where some of the recent biggest names in the draft have trained leading up to the Combine. Manziel and Cam Newton, and currently Marcus Mariota, Bryce Petty, and Jameis Winston. Why are they all flocking like the salmon of Capistrano to Prolific? It's not just the weather, it's Ryan Flaherty and team.
These training camps have become big business, and NFL execs put a lot of trust into those who run them. What the fans don't realize is that most top athletes don't return to their campuses when the season ends to start training for the biggest day of their lives. They head off to concentrated training centers that offer everything from speed and agility training, Wonderlic prep, position coaching, and much more. Athletes come to San Diego from some of the biggest college programs in the country and move in with former rivals to spend every day leading up to the combine grinding in and out of the gym. Spots are limited and Prolific was almost filled before the 2014 college football season even began. While competitors are shaving 3/10ths of a second off of 40 yard dash times, Prolific is averaging 6/10ths. That's huge.
If you ask Ryan if this is what he thought he wanted to do when he grew up, he would say this is about number ten on the list. He downplays his success, which includes training the likes of Serena Williams and recent Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, in addition to all of the current and former NFL stars. Through research and practice he's narrowed down his unique technique to this one thing called the "Force Number." He's shot to the top in his field because his method works, and the results prove it.
The general thinking is this, there's not a ton that separates an athlete from sport to sport. They all need the same core things; strength, speed, and injury prevention. Next, focus on what is needed specifically for each sport. Prolific is run as more of a track and field camp versus a training camp. Ryan believes the most successful football players come from a track background. Multiple sport athletes are typically better because they are taught how to run properly at a young age. Ryan has practiced his method to the point that he can tell each athlete who walks in the door what time they'll run after going through the program, and he's never wrong. This is crucial when a difference in seconds can mean millions of dollars based on a player's draft number.
There's an all-star team put in place when an athlete comes to Prolific. The legendary George Whitfield Jr helps out with quarterbacks on the field. Working with George is a guy whose name you might have heard recently, Kevin O'Connell. Kevin O'Connell was just hired by the Cleveland Browns to be their new QB coach. He also handles Wonderlic duties for Prolific, which was one of the more humorous things to watch during my visit. These two are the best in the business. I know because Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman discusses them at length in his new book, "The QB," which you should all read.
One of the most surprising observations of my visit is how these young athletes hang on every word that comes out of Ryan and Kevin's mouths -- even though these are young guys fresh out of college, and Ryan and Kevin aren't that much older than them. The staff at Prolific are able to walk the fine line of being both a friend and a teacher. I asked if it was ever hard to get the athletes to focus, again they are college-aged guys in a beach town. Ryan responded that when they come to Prolific, it's a professional environment, it's not his job to babysit, it's his job to get them ready, and he does.
Flaherty is a member of Nike's Performance Council, which allows him to help shape the products most needed by these high level athletes. It's important that a company is using experts "in the field" to help bring credibility to their products, and that's just one of the neat things he's able to do given his success. The business of sports will always be there, but if it was up to Ryan he'd work with kids every day. Ryan and his team don't just help these athletes train for the Combine, they stay with them through Pro Day, and most athletes stay in contact through the season and return in the offseason. Last year Ryan had the first kid he ever trained come through to prepare for his Pro Day. Safe to say they've got a good thing going.
For more from my time at Prolific and all things Combine related, follow me on Twitter @MattieLouOKTC.