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CES preps next crop of NFL hopefuls

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Offensive tackles Brice Schwab of Arizona State University and Justin Pugh of Syracuse University work on blocking techniques while training with other NFL hopefuls at CES Performance in Duluth on Monday. The athletes train five days a week with intense sports specific workouts. CES has put 1,300 players in the NFL since 1990.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Offensive tackles Brice Schwab of Arizona State University and Justin Pugh of Syracuse University work on blocking techniques while training with other NFL hopefuls at CES Performance in Duluth on Monday. The athletes train five days a week with intense sports specific workouts. CES has put 1,300 players in the NFL since 1990.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan UCLA Dalton Hilliard and University of Kentucky Cartier Rice back peddle using tension bands while training with other NFL prospects in hopes of being drafted into the league at CES Performance in Duluth on Monday. The athletes train five days a week with intense sports specific workouts. CES has put 1,300 players in the NFL since 1990.

DULUTH -- After the University of South Carolina's bowl win, tight end Justice Cunningham needed a place to train to get ready for the NFL draft.

Cunningham began to ask around about possible training facilities and one name kept popping up.

"I just heard a lot of people keep mentioning Chip's name and he's a good dude to train with, so I thought it would be a good place to go," Cunningham said.

Cunningham is one of 40 NFL hopefuls training at Competitive Edge Sports, which is owned by longtime Gwinnett resident Chip Smith.

CES, which recently opened facilities in Dallas and Houston, has built a reputation for getting players ready for the NFL and other sports. Since 1990, CES has had 1,300 players go to the NFL and has 300 current players in the league. The list includes the likes of Brian Urlacher and Colin Kaepernick.

"When I heard that, I knew they were doing something right," Cunningham said.

The current crop of NFL draft hopefuls features guys like Cunningham who don't have a high draft stock right now. After the six to eight weeks of training at CES, they hope that changes when they go to their NFL pro day or regional combine.

"We prepare football players and not just combine drills," said Smith, who trained 30 medalists at the London Olympics.

Players go through rigorous workouts for six hours a day. For Cunningham it begins with watching film and going over plays.

"It's basically constant training," Cunningham said. "After I'm done watching film, we're going from there."

Then it's on to running routes and going through receiver drills for an hour. That's followed by speed and agility drills and Cunningham's personal favorite -- the shuttle runs. He finishes with a weight training session.

"They work me hard," he said with a smile.

On Wednesdays, players get a special workout at nearby SwimAtlanta.

"The schedule is very intense," Smith said.

Smith and his son Tripp do a lot of the training, but CES relies on some of its former clients as well. Former CES athletes such as Ray Buchanan, Jon Stinchcomb, Randall Godfrey, Karon Riley and Daniel Wilcox are now coaches at CES.

"One thing that separates us is the two-hour skill work with position guys," Smith said.

But it's not all running and lifting at CES. The company places an emphasis on other things like nutrition and aptitude. They provide supplements for players and physical therapists work on any kind of injury that may occur.

CES has its own chef who prepares meals for players, who live in nearby apartments and are provided transportation. They bring in a teacher to prepare players for the Wonderlic test, a grueling intelligence exam to test people in problem-solving ability.

"When I started, it was a cottage industry. Now it's a full fledge industry," Smith said.

The six- to eight-week training camp at CES costs about $15,000 to $20,000, which is usually paid for by agents. It's a hefty price, but the return is usually an NFL contract.

"For us, it's all about results," Smith said. "At the end of the day we have to make guys run faster, jump higher, change direction faster and be strong. Our work is all in measurable. Everything we do is results based."