What It’s Like to Train at the Elite Facility That Produces First-Round NFL Draft Picks

Exos set an industry record with 99 picks in this year's draft. How do they do it?

May 6, 2022 8:00 am
A prospective draftee working out at Exos.
We worked out at the NFL's preeminent "draft pick factory." We were in shambles by the end of the day.

Nearly half of the players selected in the first 100 picks of this year’s NFL Draft spent their most important months before the NFL Combine with Exos. The company has state-of-the-art athletic performance facilities with elite coaching staff in Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. Led by founder Mark Verstegen, these four locations have become skill-building sanctuaries for the players poised to become the future of football.

InsideHook contributor Charles Thorp traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona to live a few days in the off-season cleats of a college athlete preparing to enter the NFL with Exos. The same site was home to first-round picks Garrett Wilson (New York Jets), Jordan Davis (Philadelphia Eagles), Jahan Dotson (Washington Commanders) and Devonte Wyatt (Green Bay Packers). Below, he shares his experience on his first 24 hours at the facility.

I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive stepping inside the lobby of Exos. I’d flown in late from New York to Scottsdale late the night before, was far from operating at 100 percent and now had to train beside some of the projected first-round picks in the NFL Draft. Going in, the goal was to get an authentic glimpse at the day-to-day of a top prospect as he prepares for one of the most crucial moments in any professional football player’s career — the very beginning. As I walked in, I spotted in huge letters the line that Mark Verstegen and the Exos team live by: “Greatness is a team sport.”

My trainer for the duration of my visit, JP Major, was waiting for me at the front door. I’d spoken to him a week earlier to discuss my goals, usual exercise behaviors and previous injuries. Given my passion for biking, trail running and combat sports, there are a few. Over our routine call, I shared my goal was to put on some mass without compromising my speed and agility, which coincidentally matched many of the young footballers preparing for the combine, including now newly minted New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson from Ohio State.

JP got me checked me in and helped assign me a locker where I went to change. I threw on some Vuori, plus On Running sneakers, and made my way to my first appointment, with nutritionist Shannon Ehrhardt. She pricked my finger for a blood sample, as she does with every incoming athlete, in order to get a full workup of my gut health. Once that was done, I laid down in a DEXA machine. DEXA stands for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry; it’s used to measure asymmetries in muscle groups and calculate body-fat percentage (I’m right around 10%).

My next meeting was with physical therapist Tommy Brice, who put me through a number of positions to check my flexibility and discuss those previous injuries. On my preinterview I’d mentioned a meniscus tear in my left knee that I’d sustained in a bike injury. There had been a slight asymmetry detected during my scan, which was indicative of trauma in that area. Our session started on the PT table and then moved to standing checks, where we were able to confirm a slightly lower range of rotation in my left leg compared to my right.

JP took a look at my data and chatted with other departments, just like the coaching staff does before building a program for their athletes. But before we got into the training I was sent to the Fuel Bar where I was served a drink made with fermented beets and a pair of beta-alanine pills, which would allow me to exercise longer and stronger by slowing muscle fatigue.

I grabbed a foam roller and began to stretch out on the facility’s grass training area as instructed by JP, where there was a noticeable dry heat. Many of the athletes I worked out alongside mentioned liking the ability to train outdoors in January or February. As I was warming up both my muscles and my skin, I watched Exos coach Nicholas Hill put a group of his players through a number of complex agility drills involving cones. After each run, Hill dropped knowledge on the young athletes, teaching not only the how but the why around each exercise.

The atmosphere in the weight room and on the field was intense, but broken up with plenty of lightheartedness and jokes. Naturally, practice for drills performed at the NFL Combine turned into competitions, which tend to gather crowds comprised of players in between their own sessions. I immediately noticed the friendship and camaraderie that the athletes had developed with each other. No matter where they were coming from or going, it was clear many of them would be friends beyond this boot camp experience, in the league and beyond.

I finished my stretching just as one of these competitions was starting to pick up. The bench press is one of the most important physical tests of the combine, and one of the strength coaches had set up a face-off where the athletes were using a cable barbell bench press. The goal? Crush as many reps as possible in the allotted time, with some serious weight. Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Charleston Rambo (who would be picked up by the Carolina Panthers) was amongst them, and the energy was high. One player took his intimidation factor to the next level, donning a full ski mask paired with his tee shirt and training shorts, before defeating his opponent by a close margin. The whole room screamed as he ran around the room in victory, collecting high fives and chest bumps.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by that level of energy, and I was ready to get back to the task at hand. JP kicked off our first session by putting me through a number of sprinting drills: high knees, butt kicks, lateral movements. Once the fundamental patterns were locked in, we moved to drills that tested my ability to come off the line quickly and adjust direction mid-run. That is where we started to touch on the science of movement on the field, which is where Exos truly excels. I learned how to position my upper body — while waiting or in transit — to best aid in me getting to where I needed to be.

Forty-five minutes later, the sweat was pouring down my face and it was time for a post-workout shake from the Fuel Bar. There was a lunch waiting for me as well: honey garlic chicken with fried rice and stir fry vegetables, prepared by the Exos team of chefs. Not only was the food exactly what I wanted taste-wise, but it had exactly what I needed from a nutritional standpoint. By the end of the meal I had consumed 40 grams of protein, 59 grams of carbs and approximately 525 calories. I was told that a similarly strategic dinner would be waiting for me in the fridge when I wrapped up for the day and headed back to my hotel.

Before heading into the second workout of the day, I went out back to the pool to cool down for a few minutes. Next to me a few athletes were enjoying the hot tub after an intense lifting session. The Phoenix heat dried me off almost immediately after I stepped out. I changed quickly and met back up with JP, who put me on a few measuring machines to check where I was physically. The first was the force plate, where he was able to see both how high I was able to jump and how quickly I was able to lift off. The second stop was at the NordBord, to check where my hamstring strength and flexibility was at. Over the course of an athlete’s stay at the facility, coaches will check those scores and help the trainees work toward improving on them every single day.

As many of these drills are performed at the NFL Combine, athletes tend to get pretty competitive at Exos.

Our strength session started off with a kettlebell circuit with limited rest time and stretches. Even though the circuit was considered a bit of a warm-up I was feeling the burn by the end. That was followed by a round of negative pull-ups, with five seconds from the apex down to extension. Next we moved on to the Keiser equipment, where JP started by giving me a taste of competition with the Squat Strength Training machine. It measures how much explosive power you’re able to produce from a squat position. The final strength circuit was done with the Keiser Infinity Series Functional Trainer, where I did multiple sets of cable push-pulls and standing chest flys.

By the end of the strength session I was in shambles. Even though I work out every day at home or on the road, it’s never been to that level, and I had an increased respect for all the athletes there. Sadly, we were not done as JP decided I was going to do a few rounds on the VersaClimber machine before we called it a day. I staggered back to the Fuel Bar, where my second labeled post-workout shake was on the counter next to names like defensive end Devonte Wyatt and cornerback Kyler Gordon. I am a few years past my football-playing prime, and next time I see these guys it’ll likely be on ESPN, but it was impossible not to feel a part of the team as we all headed to the locker room together.

The line in the lobby made a little more sense at the end of the day.

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