First free Baltimore City Football Combine draws more than 300 players

  • Dwight Harrell Jr. runs through a drill at the Baltimore City Football Combine in Patterson Park.
Dwight Harrell Jr. runs through a drill at the Baltimore City… (Erin Kirkland / Baltimore…)
June 30, 2013|By Colleen Thomas, The Baltimore Sun

The creation of Sunday's free Baltimore City Football Combine at Patterson Park began four years ago and came together through chance.

Matt Wyskiel, founder of the financial advising firm Skill Capital Management, was mentoring a ninth-grade football player from Cardinal Gibbons. Wyskiel traveled with the player to football combines in Bethesda or Columbia — there weren't any combines in the city — and would pay out-of-pocket for the trip.

For a lot of Baltimore football players, paying to participate in and travel to a combine wasn't feasible, and Wyskiel kept that in mind as he took a handful of his mentees across the state to combines over the past few years.

Last year, Wyskiel was paired in a golf event with Jonathan Bradley, who runs a youth mentorship foundation, Cristata Cares. Wyskiel eventually pitched the idea of a free football combine to Bradley.

"When I told him the combine idea — he's got a huge heart, loves to help kids — Jon's like, 'Well, we've got to do this,'" Wyskiel said.

So the Baltimore City Football Combine was born. Sunday's free event at Patterson Park was created to allow Baltimore City high school football players to get accurate measurements for that colleges, in addition to informing players about proper nutrition and the importance of grades in pursuing an opportunity to play college football.

Originally, Wyskiel and Bradley reached out to just Baltimore City and Baltimore County high school coaches and athletic directors to encourage participation, but word spread quickly through the event's website and social media, and more than 300 high schoolers from five surrounding states signed up.

Wyskiel also got the help of Cory Robinson, Calvert Hall assistant football coach and CEO of Next Level Nation, to organize the drills and take measurements. Wyskiel and Bradley reached out to numerous Baltimore charitable foundations to sponsor the combine.

In addition to the football aspects of Sunday's event, Wyskiel wanted to stress academics and nutrition to the 150 attendees.

"While we had this captive audience, we wanted to make them listen to us talk about nutrition, things I knew nothing about in high school," Wyskiel said. "When I was talking, I told them, 'When I tried to gain weight for football, I ate cookie dough.' I didn't know.

"I also wanted to talk about good grades. It's real fuzzy — 'Oh, you need good grades to go to college' — but nobody has spelled it out for the kids."

Wyskiel spent about an hour talking about the two subjects to the group and each player received a packet with more details on NCAA academic eligibility and how to eat right. These topics, Bradley said, are important for athletes to learn now, especially if colleges come calling but a player's grades aren't up to par.

"If some of the kids that are off the radar get discovered a little bit and they realize [the importance of] their grades … all of a sudden something kicks in and they're improving their grades and their physical ability," Bradley said. "You have a metric measurement that helps kids."

Ten mentees of Wyskiel attended the combine Sunday. Though they already knew all of what Wyskiel was teaching, the event became sort of a larger mentorship for Wyskiel and Bradley.

"He focuses on football, but more so grades and academics," said Tynard Barfield, a rising junior at Patterson and one of Wyskiel's mentees. "It's hard [to make it] if you're good in football but you don't have the grades. I'm just thankful for everything" he does.

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