In an era of specialization, multisport athletes have become fewer and fewer over the past couple of decades.
But thanks to the work of a pair of Columbus East graduates, new data is showing that nearly 90 percent of the NFL draftees during the past two years played multiple sports in high school. The biggest number of those — 63 percent — competed in track and field.
With those football and track athletes, Mark Branstad and Aaron Hunter have developed a formula that takes a player’s height, weight and track stats (usually their 100-meter time or long jump distance for skill-position players or shot put distance for linemen) and molds them into a Player Athletic Index (PAI) score.
“Once we got all that information, we were able to create this PAI,” Branstad said. “We can compare like data. I can compare a guy in Nevada to a guy in Indiana.”
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Branstad, who graduated in 1994, and Hunter, who graduated in 1995, were both football and track athletes for the Olympians. Hunter walked on to the football team at Indiana University and played two years for the Hoosiers.
Hunter received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a masters in business. He spent most of the past two decades managing rental properties and doing industrial brokering.
“I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades,” said Hunter, who still lives in Columbus. “My résumé looks like I don’t sit still very long. This is probably the longest I’ve ever stuck with something.”
Branstad graduated from Butler with a degree in history and secondary education and was a teacher at Franklin Central from 2000-08. He became a real estate broker and started the company Football Talented Advisors in 2009.
Then in April 2014, Branstad developed Tracking Football out of his Carmel home. The trackingfootball.com website has been up since September.
“In talking with some football coaches and some recruiters a couple years ago, the coaches were always enamored by the track data, but they didn’t know how it fit into football,” Branstad said. “We said, ‘Let’s try to put what 11.0 (-second 100) means in football terms.’”
So they enlisted the help of a mathematician to help them develop an algorithm that quantifiably measures a high school or college football player’s athletic ability.
“What we do is true sabremetrics, but it is with true athletic talent, not game stats,” Hunter said. “Lets say I have Bo Jackson or Adrian Peterson. I take his height and weight, I take his track stats, I can tell you along that distribution curve how good a natural athlete he is.
“Michigan can take a bunch of 4-star guys, but they’re all terrible,” he said. “But Alabama can grab a 3-star guy, and he turns out great.”
Measuring the talent
The PAI scoring scale ranges from 0.0 to 5.0. A 5.0 score is rare and reserved for top athletes like Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Former IU running back Tevin Coleman produced a 4.7 rating. Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt is a 4.1.
Among local high school players, Drew Schoeberl, who will be a senior at Columbus North, leads the way with a 4.3 rating. Rhett Myers, who will be a senior at East, leads the Olympians with a 3.8 rating.
Schoeberl, who has a football offer from Southern Illinois, and Myers are both tight ends in football and throwers in track and field. Myers, who is also receiving Division I interest for football, was a state qualifier in the shot and discus this track season and also plays basketball.
“By playing multiple sports, I’ve always thought that’s helped me with my athleticism, and I guess this (PAI) shows that,” Myers said.
Tracking Football’s database features info on more than 20,000 current and former Division I and NFL players.
“If (North rising junior) Mitchell Burton is 6-1 and a running back, how does he compare to other running backs in the country?” Hunter said. “Let’s say a kid from East is 6-1, 6-2. He can put all his data in there, and if he runs track, he can compare to (former East star and current Houston Texans defensive back) Stevie Brown, he can compare to (former Greenwood star and NFL linebacker) A.J. Edds or he can compare to a Division I athlete from his region.”
Branstad said while Tracking Football focuses on track stats, playing other sports could be helpful, as well.
“I think some people think that we’re saying the kids in track are better football players,” Branstad said. “That’s not what we’re saying. We’re just trying to put out there how he stacks up as an athlete.
“A lot of people say ‘What about basketball, and what about baseball?,” he said. “You certainly can’t take baseball numbers and extrapolate that into whether somebody is a great athlete. You can certainly do that with track. It’s an objective piece of information that’s helpful to them.”
Selling the product
Now that Branstad and Hunter have built a substantial database, they’re trying to market trackingfootball.com to college and NFL teams.
“It becomes a true selling game,” Hunter said. “I visit colleges. We go, we show up and do a presentation, and we try to sell them. We do the same for NFL guys.”
Tracking Football, which just received NCAA approval last month, offers three packages. The bottom package is $2,995 and allows complete access to site, PAI scores on past players and assistance with a small set of five to 10 players.
The middle package is $7,995 and allows teams to send 100 to 150 players that they can rate, plus access to the top 400 players, a PAI customized search and ability to save up to 25 players at one time to compare side-by-side and to past players.
The top package is $14,995 and allows access to lists of the top 400 players, access to send expanded lists to get athletic scores, up to 50 prospect searches, a PAI customized search and the ability to browse the database with unlimited searches.
Although they don’t have anyone on board yet, Branstad and Hunter have been in talks with several NFL and college programs, including Stanford University.
“It’s a waiting process,” Hunter said. “Our true clients are going to be the Division I schools, the FCS top schools and the NFL. The few universities that have been in contact with us seem to like the top package, and pricing is not an issue.”
Branstad, who coaches at Carmel High School, and Hunter are working on an app that will allow high school players to enter their data for free on their phone. They are hoping to have the app available by August.
“Our goal has been to get Carmel and the (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) schools on and to hope the rest of the state sees the value,” Hunter said. “We collect the data, and if anyone asks us, we try to help them out. If they approach us, we say ‘If you think you’re that good, put your data in the system and see how you compare to the NFL guys for the past 10 years.’”
Branstad and Hunter are working on bringing in a hedge fund that is interested in taking on a piece of Tracking Football.
“What I have learned about this business is, it is very cyclical,” Hunter said. “We will lose some ownership, but there are different types of share classes that can be created. Our traveling expenses are very high to get in front of people, and it’s something we felt we needed to do to create that app that’s coming out in August.
“We have self-funded this business,” he said. “When we had some of the other businesses and did some of the modeling, we did some of the cash reserve. What we have found is that when we have brought an investor on and when people see the data, it is something worth investing in. Unlike ‘Shark Tank,’ we haven’t had any issues bringing money in.”
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Key facts about multisport athletes supplied by Tracking Football:
* In 2014, of the 3,040 Division I-FBS recruits, 1,730 (57 percent) participated in high school track & field.
* More than 50 percent of Division I-FBS offensive and defensive linemen in the 2014 recruiting class threw the shot in high school.
* More than 50 percent of Division I-FBS skill position players in the 2014 recruiting class ran the 100 meters or 4×100 relay in high school.
* Almost 70 percent of the 180 Division I-FBS quarterbacks recruited in 2014 were multisport high school athletes.
* The 2015 NFL Draft saw 256 players drafted, and 224 (88 percent) were multisport athletes in high school. About 63 percent participated in high school track and field, and about 48 percent played high school basketball.