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Photo courtesy of EXOS Sports / Twitter

Preparing Athletes for the NFL Combine at EXOS

At their multiple locations across the country, EXOS has become the desired place in the athletic world to train and maintain one’s health in the offseason. From NFL stars to Olympic medalists, EXOS utilizes its team of performance physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and dieticians to help everyone succeed. Football players from coast to coast gather at the Arizona headquarters to prepare for the drills of the NFL Combine in hopes of being selected in the NFL draft. Boston College’s own Harold Landry is among many football players who trained at EXOS before being drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the second round of the 2018 draft. The Gavel had the privilege of speaking with Cruz Romero, a Performance Physical Therapist at EXOS in Arizona, to learn about his experience working with these athletes before the most recent NFL Combine.

Romero recounts his experiences of being able to work with world class athletes, such as the NFL prospects that walk through the doors of EXOS, as a “dream come true.” When he first started working with athletes preparing for the NFL Combine, Romero was completing his clinical internship at EXOS. Now with two combine seasons under his belt, he has quickly learned the ropes of preparing football players for professional success.

“All of the athletes that come to EXOS are very special humans. They have physical capabilities that seem impossible until you see it firsthand. Our system at EXOS focuses on four primary pillars: Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery.”

Over the course of eight weeks from January to late February/early March, those who work with the players need to understand the players’ motivation, psychology, and why they are pushing themselves to their physical limits. Without this knowledge, Romero says it is difficult to truly assist them in making a positive change. Nutrition is crucial, as it is hard to outwork a bad diet that has already been established. To aid in this process, dieticians create an individualized nutrition program to help all the athletes meet their goals. Whether that is putting on lean mass, losing fat mass, or staying consistent, dieticians do this while making sure that the athletes have enough fuel in their bodies to recover and maintain a performance lifestyle. Strength and conditioning coaches are used to complement this “movement” pillar, as individualized programs targeted at the types of drills these players will face are continually a focal point.

“For example, the 40-yard dash and bench press are among the most important tests that all the athletes will need to perform. Our coaches aim to improve the athlete’s strength, power, and endurance, as well as improve their knowledge of the movements.”

While these may be the most important tests, each athlete has their own individual strengths in certain categories of the Combine. In a video posted to the EXOS YouTube channel, Landry says that his “natural position is rushing the passer,” so drills such as the shuttle, 10-yard split, and L drill showcase his abilities as a lineman. The training that he received at EXOS served him well, as Landry was just named Pro Football Focus’s top rookie edge rusher.

The fourth primary pillar that EXOS focuses on is recovery. “You can only work as hard as you can recover for the next day,” notes Romero. The athletes at EXOS train to their maximum capacity all day, six days a week with “very rigorous training including, but not limited to, a warm up, movement skill development, plyometrics, medicine ball training, strength and power development, and endurance training.”  To prevent overworking the players in their preparation, Romero explains that EXOS builds in recovery days each week on Wednesdays and Sundays, or, if necessary, pulls the athlete given there are any physical issues. As a part of the package at EXOS, every athlete receives physical therapy, which they can utilize up to three times per day.

Several variables impact the amount of time that an athlete will spend at EXOS. Romero says that “some college athletes have left their seasons early (between November and December) to start their combine training with us. Some athletes return to EXOS following the NFL Combine to prepare for the upcoming season.” Landry claims that the reason these athletes come to train at EXOS year after year is “because our staff understands that no one is above another.”

Landry says in his video interview that he chose to attend EXOS because he was told repeatedly that "they’re the best facility to train at,” and “BC is more serious with the workouts but [at EXOS] they make it so much fun and make you enjoy the grind.” Although the training can prepare athletes physically, they still have to overcome a number of hurdles to make it into the NFL.

According to Romero, “Fear, without a doubt, needs to be the number one [issue] on my list.” There are various factors that promote fear, but it is mainly people (family, friends, competitors, etc.) who incite this by projecting negative emotions on players.

“For some, this can be distracting. That little voice in their head can get louder and louder and make them feel like they don’t belong. I have seen it over and over again, but everyone I’ve met has been able to push that fear aside and press forward.”

Along with fear, an athlete must overcome the obstacle of outworking the competition and overcoming injuries. Regardless of how talented you are, Romero reminds us that making it into the NFL takes hard work and dedication. “Those who are hard workers will always outperform because everyone is highly talented at the NFL level.” As a performance physical therapist, Romero’s job at EXOS is to keep all of the athletes in as much of their training as possible.

“If they have an injured shoulder, we may need to modify a couple small things, but [we] will keep training their two healthy legs and other arm.” Even though each athlete has their own method in how they overcome the adversity they face, facilities like EXOS and trainers like Romero seek to aid these players in their personalized recovery process and place them on a winning path.

The Gavel wishes EXOS the best of luck in the future as their trainers continue to develop prime athletes into top-notch professional competitors at the NFL Combine, in the Olympics, and beyond.

Grew up in the Arizona desert but my heart is at Fenway. When I’m not watching Patriots games, you can find me grabbing some ramen or catching up on Hawaii Five-O with friends.