INDIANAPOLIS -- When the NFL Scouting Combine revs up its marquee workout event here Saturday, a whistle blower will be hovering over the tricky start of the 40-yard dash.
Mark Gorscak, a Pittsburgh Steelers scout who roams colleges of the south looking for NFL talent, is in charge of keeping everybody under control at the start of the 40-yard dash.
Technically, he is listed as the starter, but in reality he is the stopper.
If an athlete makes a false move, be blows the whistle and calls off the run. That puts him in charge of a key part of an important event for players who will soon be successful, rich and famous in the NFL.
Gorscak had some training with that sort of thing back in high school, where he played center for Ringgold High in Monongahela in Western Pennsylvania. He snapped the ball to a quarterback named Joe Montana.
Did he think at the time that Montana would go on to be a Hall-of-Fame quarterback?
No, but not because he didn't think Montana was good.
"I was a 15-year-old kid," he said. "I was more interested in finding a date."
But that was then and now he sees things differently.
"This time I know the athletes I am working with at the combine are future stars," he says. "I want to do my best to make sure they do their best."
Gorscak sets the stage by coaching them up on what to do and, perhaps more important, what not to do.
"They're nervous, I'm nervous, but I just want to make sure we all do the best we can," he says. "We want to make sure they hold the three count before taking off. That's key for everybody."
Asked to run through his basic instructions, Gorscak went into a presentation he obviously has made many times.
Gorscak (animated): "OK, this is very important. I want to teach you how to start. We all want to be fast and you guys will all be fast today because this is a fast track. We want you to go from a three-point stance."
He explains that he has a player get into a stance to show, so he can focus on looking at the guys he is talking to, look them in the eye and make sure they hear him clearly.
Gorscak (still animated): "OK, take your lead hand and it can be all the way up to the tippy top of the top line. Your lead foot can go all the way up to that second mark also (about six inches behind first line). Your second foot can be anywhere you want to.
"Get a nice comfortable stance, kind of hold it for three counts -- count one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. Then get off. Pretend a paddle is hitting your butt with a nail on the end. You want to get off fast.
"Now, if you roll, I am going to blow the whistle. I am going to save you. The reason that saves you is that we, the clocks, go on first movement. If you roll before going, that means you are going to have a slow time."
He then has a player demonstrate a roll.
Gorscak again (animated, as always): "OK, we don't want any jack starts. A jack start is when you go ahead and crunch down to go. Again, I want to save you. I want you to run fast, have a good time. A roll and a jack start will start the clocks too fast because you are moving and you will have a slow time."
Gorscak tries not to coach exact stances, but does mention that exaggerated stances aren't good. He says some guys have their hand up in the air, "moving around and shaking and all that stuff" and he tells them it should be down close to their body.
Then there is the millisecond of truth.
"I tell them if I blow the whistle, just stop. There is no harm to redoing," he said. "I tell them if you stumble within the first 10 yards, I am going to blow the whistle because I want to save you. If you are stumbling you are not going to have your best time, so stop."
Gorscak says he sees all sorts of starting positions and, ironically, athletes with track backgrounds probably have the least effective stance for a football 40-yard dash.
"They get all up close to the line with as much of their body as possible and it just doesn't seem to work most of the time," he says.
After watching thousands of players run the 40 at the combine and other workouts, Gorscak did not hesitate a second when asked if there was one who stood out in his mind.
"I always remember Calvin Johnson," he said, naming the Detroit Lions wide receiver known as Megatron.
Johnson came out of Georgia Tech in 2007 and made a lasting impression on everybody, especially Gorscak, when he lined up that 6-5, 235-pound body and cruised through the 40 yards at the combine.
"It was surreal on the floor watching him run because he was so smooth and he was so big that he looks slow," Gorscak said. "But I knew it was fast. So at the end of the wide receiver group I walked down to the timers. And he ran a 4.35. Amazing.
"I went and looked at the cutup tape we do on all the runs. He covered 40 yards in 18 steps. Most guys use 23 or 24, so that was fast and that was smooth. Unforgettable."
Asked if he ever ran the 40 himself, Gorscak acted like he wanted to change the subject.
"I'm not Joe Montana or Calvin Johnson," he said. "I was a 5-11, 195-pound high school center, you know? Well, what would you expect?"
Right, but how about that 40 time?
"My best time was 5.0," he said, sheepishly. "I'm not an elite athlete, but I try to be an elite person."
One who sends elite athletes on their way to great things, beginning with a good time in the 40-yard dash.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.