Lynell Hamilton, former SDSU and NFL running back, dealt with hard knocks in football.
He’s still in the business of hard truths.
A company he co-founded, Fast Play Athletics, matches former professional players with current athletes to further their development. Clients includes many high school athletes in San Diego County.
Establishing a football player’s baseline in the 40-yard dash can be part of the project, and that’s often a hard truth.
Many find out they’re not as fast as they thought.
For example: Most prep football players don’t beat 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash when timed with sensors.
“These are your legit times,” Hamilton tells the players.
San Diego. Los Angeles. Tijuana.
The jarring trend is universal.
“Everybody thinks they’re running a 4.2 or 4.3, and it just isn’t true,” said Mike Weinstein of Zybek Sports, which does the NFL combine testing, tests prep athletes throughout the United States and oversaw recent prep football combines in San Diego and Tijuana that Hamilton helped set up.
While the NFL Draft has popularized the 40-yard dash, it also has inflated expectations among high school athletes and their supporters.
NFL draftees are exceptional athletes who also shave tenths of seconds off their 40 times through specific training. “The start is very important,” said Hamilton, whose company has prepared several players for the NFL Draft.
Also, announced 40 times of NFL draftees are nearly a tenth of a second faster than the fully automated times that are kept private.
A hand-time start accounts for the difference. While the NFL records data from both a laser timer and a stopwatch operator at the start, the hand-timed clocking is reflected in the live digital stopwatch that the NFL broadcasts during the 40-yard dash.
(Zybek deemed that discrepancy minor, noting that the stopwatch operator is stationed near the starting line instead of 40 yards away where a laser sensor records the sprinter’s finish. In comparison, a potential draftee’s sprint at his college’s Pro Day is fully hand-timed and yields significantly faster clockings.)
At prep combines, the athletes are told their fully automated clockings.
“Unfortunately these times are slower” than hand-clocked times, Weinstein said, “but at least they’re fair.”
It’s a feat to break 5 seconds.
Out of 10,000 high school football players Weinstein tested in 2018, only 85 beat a fully automated clocking of 4.7.
The best time of the 150 Baja football players tested was a wide receiver’s 4.7.
Of course, sprint speed is only one piece of a football profile.
Hamilton is encouraged by what he’s seen from Mexican football players, saying the enthusiasm for American football is growing in Baja.
Though a SDSU spokesman said the football Aztecs don’t recruit Baja, Hamilton has overseen football combines or clinics there the past four years. He’s an executive with the NFL’s alumni group and recently took ex-running backs Marshall Faulk (SDSU) and Ricky Williams (Patrick Henry High) to Tijuana for a goodwill event.
“They have some amazing talent in Mexico,” Hamilton said. “At times, I don’t see too much of a difference between the talent in the States and Mexico.”
Whether it’s in the United States or Mexico — or China, where the NFL tested some 40,000 youths in NFL Scouting Combine events — the testing deepens appreciation of NFL players’ speed, especially when it’s been trained for the draft.
The NFL reported the 2019 combine class as the fastest, on average, at 4.73, of any group since official 40-yard dash data was tracked in 2003.
The wide receivers (4.50), linebackers (4.64), defensive line (4.91) and offensive line (5.17) all set group records for the 40.