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Say what you will about standardized tests. At least they’re standard. Historically, measuring athletic ability has lacked consistency, and that’s a problem for NFL coaches, considering a few tenths of a second in a sprint separate a star wide receiver from a career backup. Turns out Mike Weinstein, owner of Zybek Sports in Westminster, has solved that problem. Using sensor technology and physics, the 49-year-old mechanical engineer’s line of data-gathering equipment measures raw athleticism with zero bias. No wonder the NFL has used Zybek to measure college players’ abilities at the league’s annual scouting combine—held February 23 to 29 in Indianapolis this year—since 2011.
For decades, humans with stopwatches timed the 40-yard dash, the test most associated with scouting pro football players. But that can lead to faulty times, both too fast and too slow. Instead, Zybek employs a laser sensor at the finish line. What’s more, a series of timing lasers line the track and record acceleration accurately to within a thousandth of a second. In physics, it’s called “jerk”—how quickly an object changes its acceleration. In football, it’s called Tavon Austin.
Weinstein isn’t a sports fan. (His main company, Zybek Advanced Products, specializes in high-tech engineering—like making fake moon dust for NASA.) Case in point: After the scouting combine one year, he had a nice conversation with John Fox—without realizing he was talking with the now former coach of the Denver Broncos. But as a businessman, Weinstein can spot an opportunity. In 2008, Uesaka, an Olympic-weight manufacturer, asked Weinstein to develop testing equipment for athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Once the Olympians approved, other athletes started clamoring for his accurate, consistent evaluations. Pro organizations such as the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Twins bought Zybek equipment, which cost them less than $3,500.
For teenagers without a few grand lying around, Zybek partners with a college recruiting service, called Rivals, to test prep athletes at mini combines around the nation. For $50, participants receive reports that, like SAT results, detail strengths and weaknesses. Last year, Weinstein tested 50,000 high schoolers, and he expects to evaluate a quarter of a million more in 2016. Adults harboring big-league dreams can visit Boulder’s Black Lab Sports, a sports-centric business accelerator that installed Zybek’s timing gear in December. That should put an end to barroom debates over which of your buddies is fast enough to play for the Broncos. (Answer: none of them.)