WHEELING - Next Level Football president Jason Rine believes in giving our children a chance. With that in mind, his company has added a football combine to its already busy schedule, right here at home.
Beginning at 8 a.m. today, Next Level Football will be welcoming prospects to Wheeling Island Stadium for an event that will conclude at 2 p.m.
''We're the anti-Nike, anti-Under Armour,'' Rine, also an assistant coach at Wheeling Central, said on the eve of the combine. ''We don't want to have anymore than 150 kids, because anything over that and we wouldn't do a good job.
''We've taken Next Level across the midwest the last 5 years, and when I say midwest, I mean generally Ohio and Pennsylvania.''
But Dolph Santorine, who founded Schedule Star and bought Next Level in July of 2010, had a bigger goal in mind. He wanted to take this outfit nationally, and judging by the schedule on the Next Level website (www.nextlevelfootall.com), that's what has happened.
''We've done it all over,'' Rine said. ''On Feb. 19 we were at Massillon in their indoor facility and had 150 kids. We've been to Warren Harding.
''We went to Atlanta, where nobody knew us from Adam, and we had 50 kids show up.''
There have also been stops this year in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Mich., New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Columbus. But never has something like this been done so close to home.
One of the great things about the Wheeling event is it comes cheap. Next Level charges a $100 fee for its combine, but players who attend Ohio Valley Athletic Conference schools get a discounted rate of $50.
''I've been coaching for 20 years and I'm not doing it to get rich,'' Rine said. ''We are very passionate about it, and we're passionate about kids.''
By now you're probably asking 'what does this thing entail?' Well, if you're looking for a coaching combine this one isn't for you, as it operates purely on an evaluation basis.
Those attending will be tested electronically on the 40-yard dash, the 5-10-5 agility shuttle, the broad jump and the vertical jump. Rine says there will no bench press involved because ''the vast majority have never been in a college weight program, anyway.''
''This isn't your girlfriend in the alley timing you with her iPhone. These are 40-yard laser times,'' Rine said. ''Kids come and say 'I run a 4.5.' No, you really don't. If you're a high school football player and you run under 5 (seconds), I don't care if it's 4.99, you're doing well.
''Anything under 4.8 and you're flying.''
The first two hours of the combine will be handled by Chad Short, a former West Liberty football standout who has worked as the strength and conditioning coach with the likes of the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates' AA affiliate, as well as the Cleveland Browns. During those two hours, Short will help the players maximize their times by tutoring them on how to run correctly.
''You ask anybody who has been to one of our combines, it's not even close'' to which one kids prefer, Rine said. ''We don't have the mouthpiece yet, but we are getting there.''
Next Level hired Ken Massey, nationally known for his ''Massey Ratings,'' which rank sports teams in a variety of sports. His ratings have been a part of the Bowl Championship Series since the 1999 season.
Rine says Massey came up with a way to grade athletes at the Next Level combines, kind of in the same way that the SAT does.
''We'll evaluate kids by position,'' Rine said. Massey's ratings take into account ''age, height, weight, position, 40, 5-10-5, broad and long jump and it spits out a number from 0-100.
''We developed a scale that says a D-III kid should score ... . A D-II kid should score ..., and so on.''
Rine cautions, though, that just because a score indicates a player would be best-suited for a certain level, doesn't guarantee anything.
''It kind of lets the parents, athlete and coach know where they live,'' he said. ''If a kid has D-II numbers, we will take your information and combine score, and we will contact every Division-II coach in the country.''
Rine said that every player, regardless of position should attend. Each player, with the exception of the quarterbacks, will work out on both offense and defense.
''Division-I kids do come to our combines. But they come to our combine when they are sophomores or freshmen,'' Rine said. ''Our wheelhouse is D-II, D-III.
''I don't want this to sound like a big recruiting scandal, but I can call up and tell a D-II coach about a kid.''
Pre-registration was offered, but Rine said walk-ups are certainly welcome. Check-in is at 8 a.m., with the combine beginning at 8:30.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net