TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was hot and it was muggy and it was a Friday in the middle of summer, all of which should've been enough to strangle any enthusiasm from a group of Florida State's skill-position players running through offseason drills with the team's strength-and-conditioning staff last week. But as freshman tailback Dalvin Cook eased to a stop after an obviously impressive 40-yard sprint, a mad scientist on the sideline with his face buried in a laptop had everyone's attention.
The man is Chris Jacobs, an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist tasked with monitoring every movement the Seminoles make in practice and in the weight room. Jacobs had worked as a propulsion engineer with the space program before government cutbacks forced him out of the job, but a timely meeting with a member of Florida State's booster club brought him here.
The players call him "Rocket Man." Jacobs' computer is fueled by data that arrive in real time, courtesy of GPS monitors the players wear in specially designed straps across their chests -- sports bras the team has renamed "bros" -- that track everything from acceleration rates to heart rates and, most important to the dozens of Seminoles patiently waiting for official results, speed.
Twenty-two point eight, Jacobs confirms, and history is made. Cook's top speed during his 40-yard dash -- 22.8 mph -- pushed him past veteran receiver Rashad Greene for the team's best mark, and the other players quickly offered congratulations to the rookie. Greene, too, was impressed, but also inspired.
For players who just won a national championship by setting offensive records and winning every game by an average of nearly 40 points, this is the value of those GPS devices. They provide the benchmark for a juggernaut for which the biggest challenge comes by competing against itself.
"He beat my record," Greene said. "So I've got to go get him on Monday."
If the players see the monitoring system mostly as a souped-up speedometer, Florida State's coaching staff knows better. For the coaches, it's the technology that has undercut conventional wisdom by providing immediate feedback on every facet of a player's exertion on the field, opening the door to a new way of running practice and designing a program.
"It's not the reason you win," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But it takes a lot of the guesswork out of how your team is feeling, how individuals are performing and how you moderate practice."
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