By Jay Young
It is never too early to start thinking about the start of football season, especially for some of the local high school players who are hoping to draw the attention of college programs before starting their senior year on the field.
Getting recruited to play football at the next level is a tough and winding road, filled with long days of work, on and off the field.
In the offseason, before a player's junior year, that work usually includes traveling across the state to attend regional combines.
Just like NCAA players who make their way to professional combines, high school kids who want to make it to the next level line up alongside their teammates to be judged on their physical skills at similar camps and competitions.
One such combine is hosted annually by the New York State High School Football Coaches Association, and features some of the best underclassmen from around New York State.
This year's combine was held at Fairport High School on May 3, and had eight players from local high schools finish in the top 40 out of 165 total participants.
After finishing in the top 50 in Fairport, all eight players have qualified for the upcoming statewide combine in Syracuse.
"We have been going to these combines for several years,'' said Ed Hulton, who is an assistant coach at Maple Grove-Chautauqua Lake. "It gives them a reason to work out in the offseason. Anything that they can compete at is important, (because) their sense of competition is huge.''
From the looks of this year's combine results, it doesn't look like Hulton has to worry about keeping his players motivated. Of the five Thunderdragons who attended, three finished in the top 10 in overall points, with linebacker A.J. Hulton, claiming first overall and running back Ryan Miller taking third place.
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From Page B1
At the NYSHSFCA combine, athletes are judged based upon their performance in the 40-yard dash, shuttle drill, three-cone drill, vertical jump, broad jump, and bench press.
Players may choose to either bench press 185 or 135 pounds depending on their size and position.
"There are four or five of these combines around the state, and they take the top guys from each to Syracuse for the state combine on June 7," Ed Hulton said.
A.J. Hulton claimed first place at Fairport with 52 total points after breaking his own Chautauqua Lake record in the vertical by two inches (39-0), as well as posting a 5.1 time in the 40.
Miller claimed third with 44 points after posting one of the combine's best times in the shuttle (4.2) and running a 4.96 in the 40.
Sitting in sixth place at this year's combine was Stephen Carlson of Jamestown, who is hoping to increase his exposure in the offseason after having a brilliant year with the Red Raiders at receiver where he amassed receiving1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns. Carlson collected 40 points and blew away the competition in the broad jump with a distance of 9 feet, 7 inches.
Joining Carlson on the field were fellow Jamestown receivers Zack Panebianco and Ben Larson, who finished 18th and 19th in points respectively.
"I knew they had gone up for the combine," said Red Raiders coach Tom Langworthy "Those guys from our team are highly recruited juniors going into their senior year, so going to the combine is a chance for them to get numbers in some of the drills that college coaches look for. The thing with (these combines) for our guys is that you can get numbers to send out to college coaches.''
Claiming the 16th overall spot this year was running Mitch Sandberg of MG-CL, while his teammate, offensive lineman Dominic Rammelt, placed 36th.
Between attending regional combines, workouts, and meeting with interested NCAA programs, local football players have plenty to keep them busy during the summer.
For coaches like Langworthy and Ed Hulton, they serve as a great opportunity to keep their players motivated and focused on the big picture.
"Anything that you practice you get better at," said Langworthy. "What I really like about these combines is that you get a group of kids that are invested in football, just getting those competitive juices flowing."