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Notre Dame Football

Standout NFL Combine Performances Becoming the Norm

February 28, 2020

Tom Herman had Texas riding high after a decisive win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to conclude the 2018 season. The Longhorns finished with 10 wins and everyone was proclaiming, again, that Texas was “back”.

It turns out Texas was not back. They dropped to 7-5 in the 2019 regular season and Herman ended up making major changes to his coaching staff. He’s trying to get things going in the right direction again and he visited with Brian Kelly yesterday to learn how to better do so.

Kelly went through a similar reboot with his coaching staff, but just as big as the coordinator hires were the changes he made in strength and conditioning. Hiring Matt Balis and David Ballou, now the director of athletic performance at Indiana, was critically important to the turn around.

Those two along with the rest of the strength staff are as valuable to Notre Dame’s program as the on-field staff.

On Thursday we saw Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet both tear up the NFL combine. That comes after Notre Dame was the only program to have five players finish with a top-five SPARQ score (speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness) at last year’s event.

When you see these kind of results in testing for the next level as well as the obvious improvement on the field over the last three years, it’s a bit surprising more people aren’t talking about the job Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning staff has done.

All anyone has to do is look at the massive improvement Notre Dame’s athletes have shown from their high school testing to what they have ended up doing at the NFL combine.

There aren’t high school testing numbers available for players like Kmet and Drue Tranquill, who also tested very well last year, but there are numbers from Claypool, Miles Boykin, Jerry Tillery, and Julian Love thanks to them participating at Nike camps back in high school.

The difference is pretty staggering.

Chase Claypool’s high school weight was 214 pounds when he did his testing. He ran a 4.60 40 yard dash and had a 32.8 inch vertical.

Last night at 238 pounds, he ran a 4.42 and had a 40.5 inch vertical.

Boykin ran a 4.51 40 and jumped 35.2 inches in high school while weighing 212 pounds. Last year at the combine he ran 4.42 and jumped 43.5 at 220 pounds.

Tillery was an impressive athlete in high school running a 5.05 40 at 317 pounds and jumping 28 inches. It was even more impressive when he slimmed down to 295 and ran a 4.93 40 and jumped 32 inches last spring.

Love might be the biggest transformation. He was a skinny 175 running a 4.71 and he jumped 31.1 inches back in high school. He left Notre Dame a year early at 195 running 4.54 and jumping 36 inches.

There were certainly corners who ran faster and jumped higher than Love, but his physical development and athletic improvement helped him become a NFL prospect.

Boykin and Tillery were not top-100 recruits, but were taken in the top-100 picks last year (Tillery was off the board in the first round). Claypool is on his way to being a top-100 pick in a couple of months. Love was not ranked in the top-500 prospects in the country as a recruit, but ended up being selected in the fourth round.

There has been a lot written this week about the impact former Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran made before leaving for an on-field role at Georgia. It’s true that Cochran deserves credit for being a huge piece of developing the culture at a place that has won as much as Alabama.

But let’s not get carried away thinking that Cochrane transformed the athletes he got the way the Notre Dame performance staff has done.

Many of the Alabama players come in as athletic freaks. It’s not at all similar to the majority of freshmen who sign with Notre Dame. Balis and the performance staff have made guys like Claypool faster, more powerful, and more explosive in a way that has taken the athletes at Notre Dame to a higher level. They are standing out while competing against hundreds of great athletes at the NFL combine and that was not very common before.

At this point, no one should be surprised if Troy Pride Jr. or Jalen Elliott create buzz with their testing over the next few days. It would feel like the norm if they did.

Notre Dame fans might be a bit more used to seeing it, but others who don’t follow the program as closely should be taking notice.

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