The 5-foot-9 college football player with NFL dreams grabbed a jump rope and tossed it under his feet and over his head, a repetition he completed 100 times. A man with a stopwatch clicked a button as the player advanced to a ladder drill to test his footwork, then to a cone exercise to measure agility, and finally to a pair of abdominal workouts to examine his core strength.
Former Kansas running back De’Andre Mann, a senior in 2015, has not given up his wish to play in the NFL, though he admits it’s a long shot. So his focus during station training Tuesday lied elsewhere — a career as a NASCAR pit member, of all things.
“I’m not too familiar with NASCAR, but I’m just trying to better my network,” Mann said. “I have a baby. I have a wife. I want to provide for them. I think this would be a good opportunity.”
Members of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development program flew to Lawrence on Tuesday. Their target: former college athletes. Mann and three of his former teammates — defensive linemen Kapil Fletcher, Tedarian Johnson and Corey King — were put through a series of exercises to project their capabilities on NASCAR pit road.
Mann completed the course in less than six minutes. His linemen teammates weren’t so fortunate.
“It was brutal, man,” Johnson said. “It reminded me of a 5 a.m. workout on a Friday before spring break. They’re trying to kill you before you go to the beach or something like that.”
There is a purpose, of course. The program’s director of athletic performance, Phil Horton, was a former football trainer at Memphis and Florida A&M. He envisions a series of qualities transferring from the football field to the pit, and 17 athletes have made their way from the introductory stage of the program to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“They can perform in the midst of a hectic environment — cars flying by and a bunch of fans in the stands — and yet they know how to maintain their focus,” Horton said.
The four former KU football players will find out over the next few weeks whether they impressed enough to qualify for the national combine in Charlotte in the spring. From there, a group of 10 people will be offered relocation stipends for a six-month training period.
Horton already has pit positions in mind for the four players. He envisions Fletcher, Johnson and King as jack men. And he was particularly impressed with Mann, who he projects as a tire changer.
“That man’s already got a nickname: Daytona,” Horton said.