It was another week on the road for me with two all-star games, the Tropical Bowl (played in Daytona Beach) and the Shrine Game (St. Petersburg) played in Florida. Here are a few things I thought interesting from this week.
- I got to tour IMG Academy in Bradenton on Tuesday. In many ways it gave me a chance to see the future of athletics; it was an unbelievable place. You might have seen my tweet, which included an attempt at a panoramic shot of the place. The picture doesn’t do the place justice anyway. By next year, it will include 700 acres of fields, stadiums, classrooms, parking lots, auditoriums, cafeterias, scenic ponds and lakes, weight rooms, roads, pathways and green space. Yes, even with all of this, there’s plenty of green space, in addition to hundreds of students from literally all over the world dressed from head to toe in IMG-logoed, Under Armour attire.
- There are two things I’ll remember most. One, when a draft prospect arrives, the first thing IMG officials do is test his sweat to measure the electrolytes he loses. Then they design a concoction at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (which is right there on the grounds, one of three in the world) and voila! He’s got his own specific Gatorade blend, and it’s available whenever he wants it. That’s pretty cool. The other thing was that IMG has developed a combine — for e-sports. Yes, the good people at IMG have even figured out a way to make money off the nerds who aspire to go from their mother’s couch to a stadium somewhere, where other nerds will pay money to watch them play video games.
- One thing I always hear from scouts is how disappointed they are in the lack of talent at the various all-star games. The older scouts, especially, lament the fact that fewer stars play in the Senior Bowl, Shrine Game and lesser games. There’s a good reason for that — most of those would-be seniors are already in the NFL — but the fact remains that some of these games have grown a little stale. That’s why it was so refreshing this year to see the Shrine Game involving assistant coaches from all over the NFL as the assistants for this week’s game. It brought a new energy to this week’s workouts.
- Here’s another big plus: referees were on site to throw flags during the team portions of the drills. It made everyone sharper and gave every workout a game-like intensity. This was one of the better Shrine weeks in recent memory.
- One longtime friend told several stories about former Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Louisville and Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who has also coached several all-star games. As the story was told, Schnellenberger was not so adept when it comes to pop culture, especially the music scene. One time, he proudly announced to his coaches that “one of the hottest band in music” would be playing at the stadium at a future date. The band? “Trickshot!” he proudly exclaimed. When he got blank stares from his staff, he excoriated them for living closed, uncultured lives. “You guys gotta get out more and live life,” he urged them. Of course, the blank stares were warranted, as the band was really Cheap Trick.
- Another time, the Rolling Stones were playing Louisville’s football stadium, and shortly before the show, Schnellenberger found a member of the band’s entourage checking out the school’s trophy case. “Hold it! Hold it! Hold it!,” said the coach with outstretched arms. “If you’re with the band, back in the visitors locker room!” When the band member obliged, another coach chided him with, “Coach, do you know who that was?” When Schnellenberger was told it was Mick Jagger, he responded with, “well, he didn’t know who I was.”