Business

Charlotte firm helps get players combine-ready

Terence Lawshe, Otis Lloyd and Vince Jacobs closely follow amateur football in the Charlotte area. It bothered them that college recruiters did not pay much attention to too many local players.

When their kids got to high school, they found out why: “As we attended combines with our sons, it became very apparent a lot of kids that would go weren't prepared. So they would perform poorly,” Lawshe said. “We thought, ‘What can we do to put together something that can help these kids out?'”

The trio founded VTO Sports in 2006. It prepares local athletes for combines with camps and exposes them to recruiters via its Web site and an annual combine.

VTO is a for-profit business with revenues in five figures, Lawshe says, declining to elaborate. Its founders, who hold other full-time jobs, run it as a side job. VTO charges $50 per group prep session and doles out free shirts with logos from the local Velocity Sports Performance training center and VTO to each athlete. Expenses including facilities, a Web site, and paying licensed trainers and some high school coaches nearly negate revenues.

“We might as well be not-for-profit,” Lawshe says. “It's just enough to take care of expenses and do something for our wives on the weekend.”

VTO is part of a new spin-off of the combine industry: combine prep camps. Think: SAT prep classes. VTO aims to be the Princeton Review for local high school football players.

The combine prep business nationally is a few years old, emerging as the combine and sports performance training industries have grown.

“The world started to believe, which they never did before, that you can train for speed (and other attributes tested at combines),” says Andy Bark, who ran combines nationally for StudentSports for two decades.

David Schuman, a New Jersey high school coach who runs a large national combine circuit, also offers prep services. It's only about 10 percent of his business, he says.

It's less than 1 percent of the business that Velocity does, says trainer Jed Hartigan, who leads sessions there. The center hosts VTO camps and private prep sessions mostly to attract customers for its core, sports performance training.

The industry won't grow much because it's not too profitable and there's a dearth of trainers qualified to run the clinics, Hartigan says. He added: “I don't see this becoming a big deal.

“But parents are willing to spend a lot of money to help their kids, so there is a little potential for this to grow.”

In addition, high school coaches are too preoccupied to train kids for combines, Lawshe says. That leaves room for independent companies.

VTO's short history shows how volatile this industry may be. Last year it held a showcase for area juniors. College coaches attended and VTO posted results on its site, www.vto sports.com.

VTO canceled that showcase this year because of a new NCAA rule banning Division I college coaches from attending combines. Now it focuses on prep camps and an annual combine for seniors in January to expose them to D-II and D-III coaches, who may attend. It posts results from prep camps on its site.

Several players who have attended VTO events are now playing college football. It's unclear how much VTO helped them because NCAA rules forbid them from talking about it.

VTO at least helped Jordan Woods, said his father John Jeffries. Woods, who graduated from West Charlotte High this year, plays defensive end at Gardner-Webb University.

Billy Napier, Clemson's recruiting coordinator, also spoke highly of VTO.

But the company misinterpreted a rule when it started out, resulting in college coaches getting disciplined by the NCAA. And some high school coaches have questioned how thorough the company is.

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