BOZEMAN — Dane Fletcher didn’t need to go far to earn a college football scholarship. The former Bozeman High School standout caught the attention of former Montana State head coach Mike Kramer and his staff in the early 2000s, keeping the all-state linebacker and tight end in Bozeman.
Fletcher made the most of the opportunity, becoming a Big Sky Conference defensive MVP and finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). Following a six-year NFL career, which included an appearance in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, Fletcher returned to Bozeman.
Now the owner of The Pitt Training Facility, Fletcher understands the challenges high school athletes, particularly in smaller-populated states like Montana, face in terms of recruiting. Fletcher and his staff provide various training regimens to prep athletes in the Bozeman area in a variety of sports, but Fletcher has long wanted to improve the odds in the recruiting game. Enter, the Verified Combine.
Fletcher, The Pitt and its staff, along with a handful of current and former NFL players, will host the inaugural Verified Combine on Saturday, June 29 on the campus of Montana State, putting high school football players through drills similar to those seen at the NFL Combine, with the goal of giving college coaches an idea of how an athlete’s physical abilities could transition to the football field.
“I think more and more coaches are looking into these stats and numbers and wanting to know, ‘What is their 40 time? How tall is the kid? How much do they weigh? How much do they bench?’ It’s kind of cool formulating this thing,” said Fletcher. “I think the talent is definitely there, and it has been. It’s just a matter of getting recognized and getting some of these kids from smaller schools more on the map for some of these bigger universities to check out. That allows us, my staff and our connections, to kind of help spread the word. These kids that perform really well, they need to be recognized.”
Aside from giving college coaches accurate numbers in the variety of physical drills, Fletcher says his Verified Combine will give the athletes a chance to measure their times, reps and overall skills against those of friends from around the state and region.
“There’s going to be live footage of each athlete doing each event. We’re going 40-yard dash, we have the vertical, broad jump, bench press, you have the L-drill and then a short shuttle,” said Fletcher. “We’re also taking height, weight, those wingspan kind of metrics. Everything is standard, so we can help push that. It will also be on our website under Verified Combine so that all kids know where they match up in the state. If you’re a sophomore and you are a running back, for example, you will know exactly where you match up against other running backs in the state, where you’re matching up as a sophomore.
“I was (recently) in Missoula talking to some of the head coaches, actually all the head coaches about it, and it’s kind of nice to know from a program stance, these coaches can know where their top players, or all their players — if they send all their players, which a lot of them are making it sound that way — where they match up in the state. Then you can kind of program differently. If your kids need a little more strength or speed or agility, side to side, you’re going to get all those metrics displayed during this.”
Fletcher said the combine will cost $100 per athlete, and each registered athlete will receive Nike workout shirts and a Verified Combine backpack, as well as “some other goodies.” At the conclusion of the combine portion of the event, Fletcher and other former NFL players like linebacker Lofa Tatupu will field questions and offer advice to each individual athlete.
“Some of these big-name guys that have been there, done that, Pro Bowl guys that can give advice to the kids, have a good Q&A, just sit down and talk to them and have a good time, really. It’s all about having fun, really, and at the end of the day we just want numbers, and if we can have a little bit of fun while we’re doing it and make this an annual thing, we can continue doing this and bring in more and more talent, (plus talent) from the NFL level, as well,” Fletcher said. “The one part that I kind of left out is the $1,000 scholarship going to the top performer. Whoever sits down and knocks out the best performance during this combine, we’ll give a $1,000 scholarship. That will be from Big Sky Bravery (a non-pprofit for Active Duty Special Operations Forces).”
“This is something new, that’s for sure. Coaches have always recruited, but coaches now are recruiting a lot more on numbers, not just film. They want to see numbers and they want to know that those numbers are coming from a legitimate source,” Fletcher continued. “All we’re trying to do is just make a verified number on everything that these kids do and allow everyone to see exactly where they are. One example would be (Bozeman’s) Ken Eiden who is coming to this, and he might be the best football player in the state, and to see where his numbers match up compared to other football players is going to be great to watch. Having some of these kids like that is going to be cool.”
For more information on the Verified Combine and to register an athlete, click here.