NFL combine after dark: Behind the scenes of prospects’ late-night prep

INDIANAPOLIS – Patrick Mahomes passed his first test of the NFL combine Thursday morning, and by nightfall he wanted to show off a bit.

The Texas Tech quarterback arrived at the EXOS training center in the basement of the Omni hotel in Indianapolis just after 10 p.m., fresh off a long day of measuring and team interviews and psychological testing, and stripped off his NFL-issued black shirt as he jogged up and down a make-shift track in the hotel ballroom.

Mahomes had weighed in earlier at 225 pounds – a seven-pound drop from his college weight – and he was noticeably more toned.

“I had to starve myself a bit. But it worked. It worked!” Mahomes said to one of his coaches, laughing.

Joining Mahomes in the hotel ballroom as the clock ticks toward midnight are nearly two dozen NFL prospects, part of a group of 95 EXOS athletes here in Indianapolis for the combine. USA TODAY Sports was granted access to the EXOS’ suite late Thursday night to observe the behind-the-scenes work of prospects after arriving in Indianapolis.

“When we get to this point, it’s all about making them comfortable, reassuring them that they’ve done all the preparation they’ve needed to do and making sure that their body feels good,” Callaway, EXOS’ director or pro sports who is based in San Diego, said. “Health is always a big concern for us. We want them to be as safe as possible, as healthy as possible and confident.”


Across Indianapolis this week, in other hotel ballrooms and suites, this is how draft prospects spend their precious hours of free time. Pre-draft training is big business, especially for the largest centers like EXOS, and that training doesn’t end upon arrival in Indianapolis.

If anything, these final four days are even more important than the previous two months, when prospects flocked to training centers in Texas and Florida and Southern California

Potential first-round defensive end Solomon Thomas hopped on a massage table for some stretching and grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams jogged back and forth as a trainer put him through some drills.

A trio of defensive backs, fresh off their flights to Indianapolis, hopped in the pool as EXOS coach Brent Callaway directed a drill intended to refresh their bodies after the flight. Offensive tackle Eric Austell from Charleston Southern submerged himself in a large inflatable tub filled with cold water.

Action at the EXOS suite peaks just after 11:15 p.m. Training tables are full, and a handful of draft hopefuls are reclined in chairs with NormaTec recovery boots on their legs to reduce swelling after a long day of medical checks and interviews.

Soon, athletes like Texas running back D’Onta Foreman and UTEP running back Aaron Jones, who worked out for scouts Friday afternoon, depart.

Utah offensive lineman Isaac Asiata, who on Thursday put up the best bench press performance among offensive linemen with 35 reps, gives says goodbye to Callaway and gives him a hug.

“Go kill it,” Callaway said.

It’s the last time they’ll see each other before workouts.

By 1:15 a.m., the ballroom is finally empty. All of the prospects have returned to their hotel across the street. Some will be woken up as early as 3:30 a.m. for drug testing.

On Friday morning, as linemen, running backs and kickers reported to Lucas Oil Stadium for their on-field workouts, Callaway and the rest of the EXOS staff return to the ballroom and flip the television to NFL Network to watch their athletes.

“I sit here like a nervous parent,” Callaway said. “I always tell them, you have to run two 40s. I have to do 60.”