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Boca Ciega senior Preston Pace found out firsthand how speed sells in recruiting.
The 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback wasn't invited to the Pinellas All-Star Classic in December and failed to crack the honorable mention list on the Times All-County team.
But, largely thanks to his impressive 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash, Pace met with USF recruiting coordinator Carl Franks late last month. The Pirates coaches received calls from Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who wants to see Pace's speed on film.
"If you can run," Florida coach Urban Meyer said after the Gators' victory in the BCS title game, "I'll be in your living room."
In an arms race for speed, college coaches canvas the country for their next gamebreaker. In years past, it was "the bigger and stronger, the better." But now, even the big lineman better be fast. The nation's top defensive end prospects are 300-pounders who run 4.5- to 4.6-second 40s.
The colleges' need for speed has led high school coaches to alter their practice methods and players to pay a growing number of personal speed specialists to give them fleet feet.
"You can't replace speed on a football field," said Jacksonville University coach Kerwin Bell, a former Florida star quarterback who played in the CFL. "It's hard to defend speed. Speed, right now, is something you must have if you wanted to be recruited by one of the big schools."
Said Chris Stein of Chadron State, a Division II school in Nebraska: "Nowadays, speed is almost everything - it's right up there with talent."
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Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said before the BCS championship game his No. 1 goal in recruiting is to "recruit speed."
How coaches do it is often an inexact science.
There's the 40 time, a long-time standard-bearer. Legendary NFL coach Paul Brown is credited with initially timing players in the 40 because he felt that was the distance covered in a kickoff.
It may not be a perfect predictor of success. Jerry Rice ran a 4.6, Emmitt Smith a 4.7, both considered slow for their positions. Armwood coach Sean Callahan and Southeast's Paul Maechtle said a bad 40 time can unfairly make or break a kid; for that reason, Countryside coach John Davis said he keeps his players' times "close to the vest."
However, the 40 is where college coaches start. Long-time recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CSTV says there are certain 40 standards for Division I prospects: receiver (4.4), linebacker (4.6.-4.7), cornerback (4.3-4.4), running back (4.4-4.5), offensive lineman (5.0-5.4), defensive lineman (4.9 and under).
Stein said he trusts times from high school coaches more than Web sites, where "everyone is faster than they really are."
The 40 times will pique interest, but Stein said watching a player on film or in person can give coaches a more complete picture; how a cornerback's hips move, how a nose guard gets off the ball. For an offensive lineman, a 40 time may be less important than how quickly he moves laterally, his balance, his explosiveness from the snap.
Quickness and foot speed were big reasons why St. Petersburg's 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle Lawon Scott drew tons of interest and will sign Wednesday with Ole Miss.
St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio is one of many Tampa Bay area coaches who have instituted more plyometrics and agility drills in practice than years past. Players run bleachers instead of just bench pressing. Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto, in his 30th season, devotes lengthy sessions to speed, with cones and ladder drills attempting to improve linemen's foot turnover.
"You used to get them as big as you could and have them push the sled," East Lake coach Bob Hudson said of linemen. "But now, we train them like skill players."
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His legs pumping like a piston, Boca Ciega senior Josh Bellamy quickly tiptoes in and out of square-shaped holes in a ladder of rope.
Bellamy's calves burn, his breathing labored on this breezy January afternoon at the school's football field.
"Don't let up," says Ricky Williams, a former Pirates star. "Keep it going."
Bellamy, a USF-bound tailback with a 4.41-second 40 time, has worked with Williams the past couple of years on speed and agility training. Williams, a former Bethune-Cookman kick return specialist, participated in rookie camp with the Chicago Bears last summer, getting beat out by Pro Bowl player Devin Hester.
Whenever Williams is home, he helps train a dozen area players, going through speed drills he says "they do in the pros."
Williams' informal, two-hour workouts are free, but he's part of a growing industry of speed coaches sprouting up all over the bay area. There's Hudson graduates Johnny Walters and Rob Oppedisano, who train high school, college and pro athletes at different sites in Pasco County. In Pinellas County, there's former St. Petersburg Catholic assistant Rod Williams.
Benedetto said 20 of his players will attend Walters' camp, which costs $350 for 30 sessions and is run at the Trinity YMCA and Mitchell track.
Like many speed coaches, Walters teaches players proper running form, tests their strength with resistance drills (wearing weighted vests, running with bungee cords) and practices bursting out of the start.
It worked for former Land O'Lakes receiver Logan Payne. After working with Walters, the 2003 grad improved his 40 time by two-tenths of a second, then broke a school record with 72 catches his senior season. He earned a scholarship offer from Minnesota, where he played four years.
"Speed can make the difference," Bellamy said. "A lot of guys are bigger than me or stronger than me. But with speed, if you're fast, you can't replace that. You may be able to bulk a guy up, but its harder to make him faster."