AGE OF THE GURU
Everyone wants a college scholarship these days. If you’re good enough and dedicated enough, there are plenty of people willing to
help you get it done.
By SCOTT M. REID THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
It’s at the end of a long day for Norman, a former University of Nevada linebacker who spent three years at the head strength and conditioning coach for the Mighty Ducks before going into business for himself. He has been on the telephone with tennis star Lindsay Davenport trying to help her with a back injury. He has put former Mighty Duck Paul Kariya through a workout. Norman has a fresh fat lip to show for a workout with Mike Leclerc of the Phoenix Coyotes.
“We were working on his hockey fighting,” Norman jokes. Now, Dana Hills High quarterback/defensive back Grant Schwartz and two teammates are lined up in a row in front of Norman.
“Go!” says Norman, sending the trio shuffling at top speed to their right. Norman claps his hands and the three player head to their left. With another clap they change direction again. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
For the next 90 minutes Norman will lead the group through a series of stretches, footwork drills, jumping, weighted ball tosses and sprints on a state-of-the-art treadmill that will leave Schwartz’s Ohio State Football t-shirt drenched with sweat.
“This,” Schwartz says between gasps, “definitely gets you ready to go and try and prove yourself.”
An increasing number of top Orange County players like Schwartz are enlisting personal trainers and private coaches to help them prepare for the season ahead and college scouting combines. A trend that started here in the 1980s and now is copied across the nation has increased the number of Division I prospects coming out of Orange County, longtime observers said, and in recent years created a cottage industry locally.
“There’s personal trainers popping up all over the place,” Mission Viejo High coach Bob Johnson said.
“I think Orange County has less (Division I) prospects by God given ability than by working hard, training with the right people,” said Andy Bark, president of Student Sports Inc. “Its prospects are more man made. Orange County has doubled its amount of Division I prospects by its West Coast thinking, its socio-economics and because it’s more open to try new ideas.”
The godfather of that West Coast thinking is Marv Marinovich. In the 1980s Marinovich, a former USC lineman, gained national attention for using non-traditional exercise and nutritional methods to groom his quarterback son Todd and others. At the time Marinovich was portrayed as the ultimate Little League parent. When Todd Marinovich, an All-America prep at Capistrano Valley, followed tumultuous stints at USC and with the Los Angeles Raiders with a series of drug arrests, critics claimed his father’s methods had backfired. But many of Marinovich’s methods now are widely used by personal trainers.
“No one is saying Marv was ahead of his time,” Bark said. “They’re saying Marv screwed up Todd. But Marv developed a lot of really explosive kids.”
Twenty years later Marinovich’s revolution has become big business. Working one-on-one with Norman will cost you $1,000 for six weeks. Workouts with small groups run $500 to $700 per player. Training with Lucious Smith, a former NFL player who runs an Anaheim facility, can run $2,295 for a year.
“It’s freaking ridiculously expensive,” said Brian Schwartz, Grant’s father and a former Ohio State defensive back who also played briefly in the NFL, CFL and USFL. “But I look at it this way: if the end result is a free education, I’ve saved a lot of money.
“But there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. Since Grant has been working with Todd it’s definitely made a difference.”
There are plenty of parents who agree with Schwartz. In the next few weeks Norman is knocking out a wall at Cutting Edge and expanding into the space next door. The move will double the facility’s size from 7,000 to 14,000 square feet. He is also adding four trainers to a staff that already includes seven trainers, five receptionists and a nutritionist.
“We’re doubling,” Norman said, “because there’s such a demand.”
Former UCLA All-America kicker Chris Sailer, who works with kickers in the Orange County and Los Angeles area, also is swamped.
“I have more lessons than I have time,” he said. “I’m turning down kids.”
The reputations of private coaches like Sailer and quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun, a former standout in European professional leagues, are well known way beyond the Orange Curtain. On any given weekend prep prospects from as far away as Florida will fly in for a weekend of workouts at Calhoun’s Armed & Dangerous camp.
With the high demand, however, there are concerns. High school coaches, players, parents and private coaches and trainers all say they are seeing an alarming trend of players suffering preventable injuries from blown out knees to fractured backs while working out with unqualified trainers and coaches.
“I hear horror stories all the time,” Smith said. “A lot of guys think because they played a position once or twice they can be a trainer now. There’s so many kids and so many parents that can afford it they think its quick money, easy money and they don’t know what they’re doing.
“You can really screw up a kid if you don’t know what you’re doing and that’s the risk.”
Said Norman, “A lot of people that aren’t qualified are just making a lot of money and the parents don’t really have a clue.”
Orange High’s Greg Gibson is one of several local coaches who not only has concerns about unqualified private coaches and trainers but questions whether similar results can’t be obtained by more conventional methods.
“A lot of these guys are going ‘Hey, I played football, I can teach guys how to go faster so they set up a company,’ ” said Gibson, who discourages his players from hiring private coaches and trainers. “But they don’t have the qualifications.
“I talk to these guys all the time. They say ‘I want to help kids.’ And I’m like you don’t want to help kids, you want to make money.”
But the concerns of Gibson and others have not slowed a trend driven by the demand of a county that traditionally produces a handful of the nation’s top high school teams, the area’s affluence, and the increasingly importance of scouting camps like the Nike Combines.
“Orange County is really competitive,” Norman said, “and everyone has money.”
Modeled after the NFL’s pre-draft combine, the Nike events puts high school players through a series of drills designed to measure their physical ability. A strong showing at a combine can raise a player’s stock with college recruiters substantially.
Fullerton High wide receiver Michael Hicks dropped his 40 time from 4.65 seconds to 4.55 after working out with Sherman Cocroft, another former NFL player.
“A tenth of a second in a football game is 5 more yards,” Hicks said. “And in a football game 5 yards is a lot.”
And it’s not just at combines where working with the right private coach or personal trainer can help with college recruiters.
“A guy like Steve can open a lot of doors for a lot of kids to get scholarships,” said USC’s Heisman Trophy quarterback Matt Leinart, who has worked with Calhoun.
Few private coaches have as much influence on players getting Division I scholarships as Sailer. With limited time and resources to scout high school kickers in person, college coaches are increasingly basing scholarship offers on evaluations by Sailer. Sailer estimates he has evaluated 65 kickers currently playing in NCAA Division I.
“A (college) coach might not have any tape of a kid or can’t see him in person so he tells the kid to get evaluated by Chris,” said Sailer, who charges $150 for the two-hour evaluation. “We have a fairly large influence on who’s getting scholarships.”
Calhoun works with quarterbacks as young as 7.
“They do the same drills as my college quarterbacks,” Calhoun said. “At that younger age you’re able to mold them because they’re so raw.”
The Schwartzes came to Norman when Grant was a freshman.
“In a lot of those early sessions Grant was either puking or feeling like puking,” Brian Schwartz said. “But he also realized ‘Holy (crap) I can do this.’ He realized he could push his body to another level.” Over the winter Norman prepared Schwartz specifically for the Nike Combine.
“Like it’s a job interview,” Norman said. This summer Schwartz trained with Norman two or three times a week, working on position-specific drills.
Cutting Edge also provides nutritional advice.
“We teach athletes how to eat,” Norman said. “Then we may have them look at certain things like a meal replacement shake, Balance Bars, and on occasion certain athletes may want to try Creatine.”
San Clemente High quarterback Mike Cook works on the drop back phase of passing with former Saddleback College coach Bill Cunerty. He works on scrambling and his footwork with Calhoun.
“I look at it the same as if it was a job because it is a job,” Cook said. “But it’s my passion and it’s made a difference.”
In between workouts recently Cook recalled a play in San Clemente’s CIF-Division II quarterfinal victory against Chino last season.
“We had the ball on our own 10,” Cook said. “We called a play-action pass. And it was a play I had worked on with Coach (Cunerty). I made a play fake, the defense bit and I made a 30-yard throw that turned into a 70-yard gain.
“I remember thinking this worked just like a drill.”