LIVE FROM THE COMBINE
Post and Courier college reporter Aaron Brenner will be reporting and tweeting live from the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis. Follow him here on Twitter for all the latest news and notes.
CLEMSON - Tony Villani knows there's really no limit on how hard he can push his pupils when they step into his gym.
"If these kids can't get motivated for two months," Villani said in a phone interview from south Florida, "then they need to go ahead and find a different life."
Villani never played a down of competitive football, but he helps those who do reach their dreams as a speed, agility and strength trainer.
An early stop on these draft hopefuls' journey to the pros is preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis beginning Thursday, where their physical prowess and interviewing acumen is tested just as much as football ability.
Since the day after the Orange Bowl, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Martavis Bryant and cornerback Bashaud Breeland sought to transform their bodies from college boys to professional men. They didn't even travel back home with the Tigers after the game, remaining in Delray Beach to immediately begin working with a fellow former Clemson product.
"He knows what you need to do and how you need to do it, to get the results you want to get." Breeland said. "I see improvement each and every week. I had a lot to work on. My body feels much better after workouts."
Originally from Myrtle Beach, Villani graduated from Clemson in 1996 with a degree in health sciences and earned a Masters from George Washington. He works with NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter, who makes his home in Boca Raton.
XPE Sports originally was based in Atlanta, primarily specializing in training draft hopefuls for the Combine. Once active NFL players sought out Villani for offseason training, he relocated to Delray Beach, Fla. - this particular year, the likes of Anquan Boldin, Eric Berry, Jacoby Ford and Andre Ellington have stopped by.
But players gearing up for the combine remained the priority, especially spanning the past half-decade as the annual February circus became more highly-publicized.
According to Villani, Boyd has lost "six or seven pounds" in his program. Also working with quarterbacks coach Ken Mastrole, Boyd plans on participating in all combine drills - "he'll do everything there. He's not trying to hide anything," Villani said.
Of course, it'll be Boyd's ability to toss the football which will most interest or turn off scouts.
"Physically, I think his throwing will stand out a lot more than people think," Villani said. He does have NFL receivers around here, and Cris Carter; they're all surprised when he started throwing how much zip he had on the ball. I don't think he's really known as a strong arm."
Boyd's final touchdown run, a 48-yarder in the Orange Bowl when he broke away from OSU defenders, has put the friendly pressure on Boyd to burst out a surpring 40-yard-dash. Villani chuckled when it was brought up.
"Definitely more shifty and a more polished runner than a sprinter," Villani said. "But he'll run a decent time."
While Boyd has shed weight, one of his favorite college targets had added it. Bryant has bulked up to 215 pounds, Villani said, a hefty 15 pounds above his college weight in order to sustain more contact long-term.
"We're changing him from a deer to a thoroughbred," Villani said. "He runs with long, floaty strides, and more powerful strides than before. We don't need him to be able to run down the (whole) field fast; we need him to explode through the 40-yard-dash."
How fast can the fleety Bryant run when he takes on the 40 Sunday?
"Indy speed is exposed, because most of these schools tell these kids they're always 4.2 and 4.3," Villani said. "But your fastest guys in Indy are normally running a 4.4 - and under. So we're trying to be part of that under group. He has a chance to do it."
As for Breeland, he's training alongside fellow defensive backs Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins from Florida and Calvin Pryor from Louisville, trying to move into the elite draftable group of cornerbacks.
"He's gotten a lot better, he's put on some size," Villani said. "Good at positional drills, real, real smooth. Positional drills, he's probably one of the best we have here as far as our DBs."
Breeland was commonly known at Clemson for his durability, which Villani has noticed.
"When we start training hard, sometimes guys are dealing with stuff," Villani said. "He hasn't had one setback. Normally every guy is gonna have one small setback during combine training. Some guys, even two. He hasn't even had one."