Temperatures plunged the morning of Feb. 28 with occasional freezing drizzle. But inside the Athlete Performance Enhancement Center (APEC), located inside Game On Sports Complex, players were working up a sweat. This Fort Worth facility has become a critical starting point for college players hoping to improve their chances in the NFL Combine for a shot to get chosen in the draft — and hopefully the beginning of a career in football.
After playing 34 games at wide receiver for TCU, Grand Prairie’s Jaelan Austin is hoping the hours spent at APEC pay off.
“My goal is just to become more of a professional and work with these guys who spend day in and day out studying this type of process with combine work and all these drills to help guys become the best version of themselves,” he says. “I want to become the best version of myself.”
The annual combine, which took place Feb. 26 – March 4, draws players from across the country to be weighed, measured, medically tested, interviewed and put through agility drills like the 40-yard dash, bench press and vertical jump. Austin wasn’t one of those heading to the combine, but he had a pro day set for late March at TCU for scouts.
There’s a lot on the line. In 2018, the minimum rookie salary was $480,000, and even a spot on a practice squad paid $7,600 a week ($129,200 per season). APEC draft prep training opened at APEC in 2017 with 9 of 11 prospects making it to the NFL, including Dede Westbrook and combine fastest LB Duke Riley. In 2018 28 of its 31 players were invited to NFL camps.
Chiefs quarterback and NFL MVP Pat Mahomes began training at APEC ‘s original location in Tyler, Texas when he was in the 4th grade and spent time working out with APEC in Fort Worth before the 2017 draft. Defensive end Solomon Thomas who was drafted third overall (49ers), and tight end O.J. Howard who was taken later in the first (Buccaneers) are training in APEC’s NFL offseason program now, along with 20 other veterans in the NFL.
During the program, players are weighed daily, have a diet and meal regimen and go through speed, strength and power work with conditioning on Sundays.
“They’ve got just about everything for our body,” Austin says. “The good thing is that it’s a small-knit group like we had at TCU. Everything’s personal, and all these train- ers know each and every person. Every- thing we do is within your group together, but it’s also tailored toward your weaknesses and what you need to improve on.”
For Austin, that includes things like coming out of his breaks quicker. Taylor Nelson-Cooke is a performance coach and training director at the facility and puts players through their paces.. While some players may not be competing at the combine, undrafted free agents do find success in the NFL.
“The dream’s not over for any of these guys whether they go to the combine or get drafted or not,” he says. “Whenever you’re a part of this process, the best you can do is get a chance. When it comes to pro days and combines, these are just testing numbers to get your foot in the door. Football’s a whole different thing than running 40s and vertical jumps. If they absolutely kill the test and demolish their numbers, then that gives them a chance to show what they can do.”
Austin’s finished at TCU for now but will return and finish his degree if the NFL doesn’t pan out. A graduate assistant coaching position awaits, but he’d prefer playing on Sundays. An NFL roster spot, or even a camp invite, is no guarantee, but he remains positive.
“I’m just hoping to get drafted or picked up,” Austin says. “Either way, I’m ready to get to a team and start working.”
The NFL draft takes place from April 25 – 27. Austin and a slew of Fort Worthians will be on pins and needles listening for his name to get called.
By Sean Chaffin