300 strong

For the last 27 years, the District 4 football combine has provided area athletes an opportunity to showcase their physical attributes in front of college coaches from across the state, in hopes of bringing opportunities for some of those players to keep their scholastic football careers moving to the next level.

The tests held at the combine are meant to show college recruiters how strong, fast and agile area players are, and events include the 40-yard dash, broad jump, long jump, vertical jump, shuttle run, and bench press.

Originally created by former District 4 high school coaches, Russ Manney of Wellsboro and Jim Bergen of Montoursville, the combine has seen considerable growth since its inaugural year in 1987, when it only had about 50 athletes participate and a few colleges there to watch.

Nowadays, a typical year at the D4 combine usually includes around 250 football players. But this past Wednesday, the 2014 district combine enjoyed its greatest participation yet, with 323 athletes in attendance from 23 different schools and was again held at Montoursville High School.

“We always wanted to break 300,” Manney said. “Now we finally have.”

Manney, who ran five different football camps throughout the state for the Pennsylvania Coaches Association, said that the he and Bergen created the combine because at the time they felt the area was under-recruited and they wanted to create opportunities for more area athletes to continue their scholastic football careers.

Originally, the combine was held at Wellsboro High School, but was moved during the 1990s in an attempt to draw bigger crowds, and accommodate those schools that wanted a more centralized location for the event.

“It really blossomed after we moved it to Montoursville,” Manney said. “One thing that helps out are the Division III coaches and the Division II coaches who come to watch, because let’s face it, the majority of our players go to schools like that.”

The combine has seen much attention from Division II from teams like Bloomsburg and Lock Haven, as well as Division III schools like Lycoming and other teams in the MAC. Though Division I schools are no longer allowed to attend because of NCAA rules, Manning said that he has a list of around 10 Division 1 programs that he sends the results to including Penn State, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Ohio State.

Manney anticipates that the combine will continue to grow as the years roll on, because he feels that the district is loaded with ambitious coaches that are willing to put in extra work to get their players noticed.

“Right now there are a lot of great young coaches in the District 4 Coaches Association, and they are really pushing it,” he said. “So things will keep building every year.”

One of those young coaches is Loyalsock’s Justin Van Fleet, who is now Vice President of the District 4 Coaches Association. Van Fleet feels that the D4 combine has become one of the best district combines in the state, and said that it is starting to compare with the major combines, like the Nike combine, that players will drive long distances to attend.

“We have worked very hard to make this a combine that is respected, and we are getting it to that level,” said Van Fleet.

“For the kids, it is a wonderful thing to not have to drive all the way down to Philadelphia or New Jersey or Pittsburgh, to attend an elite combine, because that is what this is becoming.”

Though the D4 combine lacks some technical advantages of the major combines, like electronically-monitored times, it has the advantage of being one of the cheapest combines in the state, with an entry price of just $10.

“We don’t use this event as a fundraising event within the Coaches Association, it is really done for the kids,” Van Fleet said. “Most combines cost around $60, but with this you can throw a $10 bill in your pocket and get a $7 shirt, and then the rest goes to things like pizza for the kids.”

“All of us have worked throughout the year to get this done. The better the district becomes, the better the chances will be that they will get good opportunities.

“So, it’s a great event that we are hoping to continue to grow,” said Van Fleet.