Athletes hope to make the NFL via West Pasco
A couple tenths of a second may feel like a trivial amount of time to most - maybe just the blink-of-an-eye interval for the television to flip from ESPN to ESPN2. But in the world of professional sports, that seemingly insignificant span can sometimes mean the difference between watching games on television and actually being the one racing across the screen. That's where Rob Oppedisano of Oppedisano Speed Training can help. Raw speed, according to the sports cliché, is something that can't be taught. Refining it to shave down hundredths or tenths of a second, however, is the athletic-performance trainer's specialty. Now in his sixth year honing the skills of top-level athletes, word continues to spread about the good Oppedisano and his OPT 4 Speed program can bring an aspiring professional. "When I first started it was just with high school athletes," he said about the growth of his business. Word of mouth, his Opt4Speed.com website and players' agents are doing the spreading. "Then when they started to improve I started getting the college guys, and then it got to the pro guys."Oppedisano's current group of trainees who made the trip to New Port Richey exemplifies both his program's reach and its effectiveness. Running backs Mike Ford and Richard Kelly hail from USF. Defensive end Damario Ambrose was part of this season's University of Arkansas Sugar Bowl team. Jocques Crawford did his rushing in 2010 at Tennessee Tech, and fellow running back Alex Allen was an Akron Zip. Mon Williams is a former Florida Gator who last played at Eastern Illinois. Receiver Daunta Peterson is a Tampa Blake High product who was previously signed by the Buffalo Bills in 2007. All have committed to take part in Oppedisano's four- to six-week training program and all - nine athletes in total - hope to land on NFL rosters sooner rather than later. "I never really heard of New Port Richey before I got here but I like the area," said Crawford, who was an All-American junior college running back before transferring to Kansas University and then Tennessee Tech. "It's a smaller town, not too much to get into. So you can come down here and stay focused." That's not exactly the type of ringing local endorsement a city or county tourism director would want to slap on a travel brochure, but the relative lack of distractions makes for an ideal location to an athlete serious about making a living out of football. "I tell them early that if they're coming here for any other reason than to work hard, then I'm not your guy," Oppedisano said. "They should save their money and time. But if this is what they really want to do I'm going to give them everything I can." Much of what his "everything" entails is four to six weeks of early morning weight training, followed by a mix of afternoon agility, speed and conditioning work on the fields of Trinity's Jack Mitchell Jr. Park. While the drills and exercises are far from foreign to Oppedisano's athletes, it's his attention to detail that separates him from other trainers. "Rob focuses a lot our weaknesses," said Peterson, who is hoping to show off his improvements at a number of pro combines and tryouts this month. "A lot of people just have a program set and you just do it. But if you have something that's already strong and you keep working on that then you're not developing your weaknesses. He does, he attacks the weaknesses and that makes everything better." Ambrose, who has his University of Arkansas pro day March 8, said he feels more than ready after working with Oppedisano. "I've gotten stronger, I've gotten faster, I notice a big difference in my jumping ability; everything's improved. I feel prepared and that's the most important thing because it is a job interview." Oppedisano attributes that to his focus on breaking down the mechanics of athletic motions. "I'm a movement specialist. We work on a ton of technique in the beginning and then keep building ... from day to day. "Everything starts with acceleration, so I teach them how to accelerate, how to decelerate and then reaccelerate again." Once an array of specific movements are broken down, taught, then pieced back together to their full motions, results can come relatively quickly. "I've never really gotten the right techniques," Crawford said. "I've seen all my times improve within about the first week just by doing it his way. What he's doing here does work." When players buy in to what's being offered like this current assemblage of talent has, Oppedisano said their individual progression is inevitable. "I know I've got something good, the guys know it, and we're all in it together. It's a great set up. They're going to get better and we're going to get them closer to achieving their goals."