The first Monday after New Years Day, Bobby Sewall ’10 walked into Mike Boyle’s strength and conditioning gym for his first day of high-intensity training for the NFL. The top football talents in New England came in with him — from Boston College, the University of Massachusetts, the University of New Hampshire, Harvard and Holy Cross. The players all had the same New Years’ resolution: to make it to the NFL.
The workouts were a struggle for all of them, even though they were some of the most physically fit, successful football players in the region.
“Kids were puking the first day,” Sewall told The Herald in January. “It hasn’t been easy.”
The workouts were, at times, unconventional because they tried to simulate in-game tests of strength. Sewall pushed 400-500-pound sleds like he was blocking a linebacker, squatted with just one leg like he was springing up for a ball while in midstride, and did intense core workouts so that he could take the brunt of a hit and keep motoring — but never, ever, did a sit up.
“The only time you’re ever going to do a sit up in a game is when you’re getting off of the ground,” Sewall said. “It has certainly been a little bit of a shock to my body, and I like it.”
But what it all comes down to, the commitment — five hours a day, four days a week for eight weeks — was mainly training to jump one inch higher in his vertical leap or run a few fractions of a second faster in the forty-yard dash.
NFL teams ask prospects to perform a number of different drills — most famously, the vertical leap, 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dash — as a baseline test of their athleticism.
“The combine drills are kind of like an SAT,” said Colin Cloherty ’09, a tight end for the Indianapolis Colts who trained at Mike Boyle’s gym when he was in Sewall’s shoes a year ago. “But just like the Kaplan or the Princeton review that you can take to beat the test, I went to Boyle’s to learn how to beat the test.”
Sewall, who ran a 4.50 40-yard dash as a junior, eventually got his 40 time down to a 4.41. It may not sound like much, but nine-tenths of a second is enough to make the difference between beating a defensive end to the sideline and being tracked down for a four-yard loss in the backfield.
But more importantly for Sewall, nine-tenths of a second may mean the difference between being overlooked by the NFL and signing a contract.
In addition to his 4.41 40-yard dash, Sewall had a 41-inch vertical leap and did 16 bench press repetitions. Most Ivy League wide receivers don’t even make NFL scouts look up, but Sewall’s numbers were enough to turn heads in the NFL.
“Every little test matters,” Sewall said. “Every little full step.”
It wasn’t just his numbers that drew in the NFL scouts. Sewall was a three-time All-Ivy selection and was half of one of the best receiving duos in the nation with 2009 Ivy League Player of the Year Buddy Farnham ’10, who earned a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend.
Brown Head Coach Phil Estes said it also didn’t hurt that every time a scout came to see Sewall, Farnham, David Howard ‘09.5 or James Develin ’10, they got to see all four prospects on the same film.
Apparently the Titans liked what they saw. As the Titans were selecting Howard with the 241st overall pick in the seventh round of the NFL draft, they called Sewall to begin negotiating what ended up being a two-year free-agent contract.
“It basically means that I’ll be in camp come August, and I’ll get a chance to earn my spot,” he said.
The phone call ended a scary period of waiting when Sewall said he didn’t know if any team would want him.
Sewall said he “just said a prayer and knew that somebody would be out to hopefully show some interest in me or take a chance on a receiver from Brown.”
The Titans did, and Sewall will report to minicamp on Thursday. He may not be a receiver for the team. He might have to become a special teams player like former Ivy League Player of the Year Sean Morey ’99, who became an All-Pro special teamer.
“They were talking to me about returning some kicks and punts as well as even holds, too,” Sewall said. “I’ll do anything that makes me valuable to the team. But I’m just so excited and really grateful for the opportunity.”
“It’s time to make the most of this opportunity,” he added. “Time to go to work.”