It’s that time of year again, when the NFL world descends on Indianapolis for the annual Scouting Combine. What started out as a few scouts gathered in a central location to evaluate NFL prospects has become a gathering of coaches, general managers, players, agents, and the media.
And now, fans get to be a part of the NFL Combine.
“This is the first time we’re bringing the fans inside to the convention center,” says Nicki Ewell with the NFL. “We brought the fans into Lucas Oil the last couple of years to watch the prospects’ skills on the field, but this is the first time we’re doing a free fan experience.”
And part of that experience is watching NFL hopefuls test their strength on the bench press.
“They’re going to see the actual prospects bench from 2-5 every day,” says Ewell. “So if you’re in here and you come over to Hall K, which is where we have the bench press set up, you can actually see the prospects lifting – which is exciting and they can cheer them on. That’s why we brought it in, because we knew that they love and they feed off that energy of the crowd.”
And Indianapolis is a city that has produced some record crowds for the NFL.
“Indianapolis is a really strong market for us. We were here for Super Bowl XLVI, they were our best numbers ever for the NFL Experience. We know it’s a great Colts city and it’s also a very drivable city, so we’ll have great fans from Chicago and hopefully Green Bay and Detroit and Louisville and Cincinnati.”
Dennis and Nanette Williams are making the 100-mile trip from Rising Sun, Indiana twice this week, both as volunteers and participants.
“Just the experience of seeing young men try out for a position in the NFL. It’s exciting,” says Nanette.
It’s watching football history unfold.
“To see college kids before they’re actually stars,” says Dennis. “It’s that personal one-on-one where you can sit back and say, ‘Hey, I saw this guy participating and now he’s a starter on a team.’”
“It’s like adopting these kids through this whole process,” says Nanette. “You share in their excitement that they are actually a part of the NFL now. But it all starts here. And so, opening it up to the public is so smart because it gets people on board immediately following their careers.”
And that’s just what Jasmine Lefort and her brother, Gavin Zeigler, are doing here this week. Big fans of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, they made the trip from New Orleans to watch him write the next chapter in his football career.
And in the meantime, they were catching passes off the JUGS machine in the NFL Combine Experience.
Jasmine dropped the first two balls and secured the last one – but it came with a price.
“I broke my nail. It hurt,” she says. “I didn’t expect that. I’m like, ‘Never again.’”
Gavin didn’t let one ball hit the ground and like a good teammate, he gave all the credit to the guys around him – in this case – the guys running the JUGS machines.
“My team came out,” he says. “We played hard. I’m just very happy I was able to get my job done.”
The NFL Combine events are free to attend, but you have to sign up for a day and a time slot.
“Our commissioner loves to offer free fan events and I think it’s wonderful that we can do that,” Ewell says. “You download the app, it’s called Fan Mobile Pass/NFL Combine. You register, you pick a day and time you want to come, it’s free, you answer a couple of questions, you get a QR code. You can register up to five minors if you’re a parent of guardian. That QR code is your ticket. So, that will help us control the amount of people that are in here and make sure it’s not too busy.”
And there’s something for every football fan and every fan of every team.
“We have the Colts Cheerleaders here and the mascot. We have a digital 40-yard dash so you can run against Demaryius Thomas, Super Bowl champion from the Broncos. We have a vertical jump that’s digital as well, you’re jumping against Demaryius on a digital wall. We have a three-cone drill, we have the gauntlet, we have a broad jump, we have an obstacle course,” says Ewell.
“We have a Play Football field for our younger fans to learn football fundamentals. We have a draft set so you can take a photo with a number one jersey. We’ll have players doing free autographs, all that schedule and information is in the app.”
Ewell says you don’t have to be registered beforehand or be tech savvy to stop by and check it out.
“Come down to the Indiana Convention Center, you enter off Capitol and Georgia. Come on in and you can register when you get here. We have wonderful volunteers that are here to help you register and you can get your ticket if you don’t have a smart phone or you’re not that good with technology. Come on down and we can take care of you and get you in.”
The NFL Combine Experience is open Friday 12-8, Saturday 10-8, and Sunday 10-5. You can also use the app to sign up to watch the events in Lucas Oil Stadium.