Combines Set Stage for The Alliance
By Mark Newman
For 1,155 players who came to compete and give everything they had in four Scouting Combines across the country, it was a golden opportunity to make a lifelong dream come true.
Who knows? Some of them might become your favorite players when the Alliance of American Football turns its talent loose starting the weekend after the Super Bowl this February.
The Alliance has purposefully and competitively been building rosters in recent months through various means, and one important step was these Combines overseen by league personnel. The events were held in Los Angeles on Aug. 4, Houston on Aug. 18, and in Atlanta on Aug. 25-26.
“When we started this, we started with the idea that there were a lot of really good ballers who weren’t getting a shot,” said Charlie Ebersol, CEO and co-founder of The Alliance along with the legendary Bill Polian. “This is about opportunity, this is about not giving up, this is about trying to find those diamonds in the rough.”
The Alliance rosters were up to 661 signings for the eight teams as of Nov. 9, and Combine participants went a long way toward reaching that number. They faced tests and positional drills, with defensive players working the morning sessions and offensive players in the afternoons. Tests included height and weight, arm and hand measurements; running the 40, to show burst and acceleration, and speed; 3 Cone, an agility drill that shows body balance, control, burst and acceleration; and standing broad jump to gauge lower-body explosion.
“We evaluate not only your athletic ability, we evaluate how you handle yourself,” Stephen Austin, The Alliance Combine Director, told assembled athletes. “At the pro level, you’ve got to have the whole package.”
The nation’s top 300 collegiate players go to the NFL Combine each year, and John Aaron, The Alliance Combine Director, noted that “301 to 1,000 are great football players.” That’s the whole point of this new league, which begins play the Saturday and Sunday after the Super Bowl. People want to keep watching football, and there is big-time talent just waiting to fill that void.
Tony Softli, Scouting Director for The Alliance, said he expected the Combines to result in roster additions: “What we wanted to see is what talent is out there, what’s out on the street. There has been some talent that we found in this Combine, and it’s been well worth it.”
Michael Vick, the Atlanta Legends’ offensive coordinator, was clearly moved by the stories he heard from some of those going through the tests and drills — including the athlete who told him about his 9-to-5 job.
“There are guys who played two or three years in the NFL, got cut, went and played in Canada,” Vick said. “These guys better be hungry. This is another chance. This is another shot. Not too many opportunities come around. This is about taking advantage of what’s in the moment.”
Former Alabama State cornerback Ronnie Scott was one of those who hoped to take advantage. Many of the Combine participants were names football fans recognize.
“I feel like a lot of guys are here trying to prove that they can still play, that they belong,” he said. “Not everybody gets the opportunity to continue to play this game. So it’s a chance for everybody to hit the reset button and get a fresh start and play this game of football again.”
Wide receiver Brandon Shed was wearing a No. 197 green jersey and clinging to the hope of running pass routes this spring. He had a standout career at Division III Hobart, finishing his time there with 168 catches for 2,954 yards and 32 touchdowns. He went undrafted by the NFL last spring and then worked out at the Minnesota Vikings’ three-day rookie minicamp, but the challenges keep coming.
“I drove eight hours just to come up here to compete and make sure I get a spot, so it would definitely be a blessing and I’d be honored to play,” Shed said. “I just can’t imagine going through a day without doing what I love and what I’ve been doing since I was 12 years old.”