The NFL Scouting Combine has become such a critical event for college prospects that they spend almost two months preparing for it.
Five of the six former Boise State football players who will perform at the combine, which started Wednesday and concludes Tuesday in Indianapolis, left town to undergo specialized training.
Only tight end Derek Schouman, who remains enrolled in school, stayed in Boise. He trained with Boise State strength coach Tim Socha, along with several former teammates who are not going to the combine but will work out for NFL scouts March 5 in Boise.
Wide receiver Legedu Naanee and defensive back Gerald Alexander trained at an Athletes' Performance facility in Carson, Calif. Quarterback Jared Zabransky and wide receiver Drisan James attended a camp in the Phoenix area. Wide receiver Jerard Rabb prepared in Southern California.
"It's weird, because it's not like getting ready for a football season," Naanee said. "It's a workout just for the combine event. So it's different than what we've done in the past."
More than 300 NFL prospects will attend the combine, where scouts, coaches and general managers from around the league evaluate talent. The process includes physical, psychological and medical tests and team interviews.
The most important test for skill players is the 40-yard dash. Other drills test players' broad jump, vertical jump, flexibility, agility and — almost as an afterthought — some position skills.
"Their whole mentality has to change," Socha said. "You're concentrating on one very specific thing for most of these guys, and that's running the 40."
A player's draft stock can rise or fall quickly during the NFL's favorite speed test — a test that is more track than football and takes less than 4.5 seconds for the sport's fastest players.
Naanee's combine prep included breaking down the 40 piece by piece.
He ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds last spring, he said, and hopes his specialized training will lower that time. A quick 40 time, combined with his 6-foot-2, 228-pound frame, could make Naanee a hot commodity.
"I'm not sure if (my speed) is questioned by scouts," Naanee said, "but I know any time they see a receiver with good size, that's the first question — ‘How fast is he?' That's where I can … increase my stock."
Alexander decided to train at Athletes' Performance in part because ex-Bronco Daryn Colledge, who was a second-round draft pick last year, prepared for the combine at the company's facility in Arizona.
"I feel good," Alexander said. "I'm excited. The combine, I've been paying attention to it for the last four or five years and now I get to be a part of it. … It's a chance to showcase myself."
Naanee, who has spent a month and a half working out alongside Alexander, will see more familiar faces during his combine workout, scheduled for Sunday. He is in the same workout group as Zabransky and Rabb — opening the possibility that Zabransky could be throwing passes to his old receivers in front of the scouts.
James will be on the same schedule as the other three, but in a different workout group.
Schouman works out Saturday and Alexander performs Tuesday.
"That's going to be a huge advantage for us — having that comfort level, that familiarity," Naanee said. "We will be able to just bond with those guys."
Zabransky's training has included work on his passing skills with former Indianapolis Colts head coach and NFL offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower. He also has spent some quality time preparing for the Wonderlic intelligence test, the one Vince Young reportedly tanked last year.
Zabransky hopes to become the first Boise State quarterback drafted since Jim McMillan in 1975. McMillan was selected in the 14th round.
The modern draft only lasts seven rounds.
"I'm pretty confident I'm going to show some people my true athleticism," said Zabransky, who was 33-5 in three years as the Broncos' starter. "I'm pretty excited to have them see that up close."
Schouman might be the Broncos' most intriguing prospect. He was startled to get an invitation — particularly since it arrived late.
The invitation was delayed in the mail, arriving several days after the invitations to his teammates.
Schouman is a bit undersized by NFL standards at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds but could play some combination of fullback and tight end. Former Boise State tight end Jeb Putzier of the Houston Texans, by contrast, is 6-4, 256.
"I've always wanted to play (in the NFL)," Schouman said. "… You realize your childhood dream is possibly a couple months away and it's pretty nerve-racking."