When Estevan Lucero was in high school, playing football for the Valley Vikings, local athletes had to be creative to get themselves noticed by colleges.
But Lucero, now an operations director at 8 Grady’s, wanted to afford the next generation of athletes a chance he said he never had. So he organized a special combine Friday night for about 75 high school players from around the state at the 8 Grady’s Performance Center Fieldhouse in the Northeast Heights.
“We didn’t have anything close to this,” said Lucero, who is also the strength and conditioning coach at Manzano. “My parents weren’t really familiar with the recruiting process, and something like this would have gone a long way for me.”
Athletes paid $100 apiece to participate. Most of the athletes hailed from and represented large-school metro area programs, but others traveled in Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Raton and Taos.
“This is a good way to see where I’m at,” said Taos High sophomore Davidpaul Salazar, a linebacker and wide receiver. “And also measure where I’m at. It was totally worth it.”
With prep football venues dark and quiet this fall, college-seeking players – the seniors, in particular – are hamstrung insomuch as they are unable to splice together updated game video. So for players who fret that a spring season will be too late for them to earn a scholarship offer, the combine offered at least a chance to impress without the pads.
The event was run by Zybek Sports, a Denver-based company that has handled timing in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis since 2011. Zybek CEO and founder Mike Weinstein, who was on site in Albuquerque on Friday, said the company has tested roughly 30,000 youth athletes over the last 18 months.
The 40 was one of five drills in which athletes were being timed and measured. And these 40 times are laser timed as opposed to less reliable hand timing.
“I know when kids are trying to establish a résumé, they need a leg to stand on, especially now,” said Lucero. “I wanted to give our athletes here the ability to really see where they stand relative to the competition.”
Added Eldorado senior quarterback Nicholas Petty: “This is a good way to get out here and let (college coaches) know what your times are. A lot of college coaches are asking for (them).”
And for underclassmen like Salazar, the combine puts into their hands what Lucero describes as “objective data” to examine how and where they need improvement. To that end, Lucero plans to conduct multiple combines at 8 Grady’s, with the next one coming after the 2021 spring season.
“They’re accurate numbers to send out to colleges, which is the ultimate goal,” said junior running back Marco Ybarra of St. Pius. “In New Mexico, we need to get more exposure. It’s great that we can get our numbers out here.”
Cleveland’s Luke Wysong already has committed to the University of New Mexico, but he was among the participants Friday. He said he wanted to be there to support his younger brother Evan, a Storm sophomore.
“I wanted to see where I’m at,” Wysong said. “… Everyone hasn’t done anything official since anyone knows how long, so it’s good to see everyone out here and being competitive.”
Before the weekend is over, athletes will be emailed a report on their combine performance, even breaking down their showing in an individual drill – like the 40, for example, where they can be evaluated on things like their top-end speed, acceleration and stride length.
Athletes’ marks can also be compared to others in their graduating class – and position groups – around the country, Lucero said.
“I believe it’s great for New Mexico, us being such a little-known state,” said rising Cleveland junior running back Lucious Dickson. “We really have talent out here.”
The largest combine participant was Albuquerque High senior offensive tackle Carlos Lovato, who at 6-foot-4 and 316 pounds is considered a college prospect. He said he has spoken to several schools, including New Mexico.
“This system … lets us see who we really are, and what type of athlete we really are,” he said.
Meanwhile, out-of-season football workouts have resumed in some cases or, in the case of Lovato and AHS, will start on Oct. 5.
Until then, patience is mandatory.
“It sucks that we’re not having our season in the fall,” said Mayfield senior fullback/place-kicker Derek Saavedra, one of half-dozen Trojans at the combine. “But as long as we get our season, that’s all I care about.”