How Olympian Natasha Hastings Helps Secure Dreams At NFL Draft
For many college players, the National Football League Draft is perhaps the biggest moment of their professional career, one that comes with an immense amount of training and preparation. Just months earlier, these players got one opportunity – at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis – to impress and prove their worth, an opportunity studied for months under a magnifying glass by every so-called expert.
While it might not be the sole factor in determining a prospect’s draft position, the combine holds a great deal of weight, so much so that players look to various help for an edge. It could be a new and unique diet, it could be a different regimen in the weight room or it could be one of the world’s fastest women. Leading up to this year’s draft in Philadelphia, several NFL prospects trained with track star – and two-time Olympic gold medalist – Natasha Hastings, in the hopes of increasing their speed.
Hastings, 30, grew up around track and field as both her parents competed for the New York Institute of Technology and, over more than a decade, she’s won the sport’s biggest events. But how exactly did one of the world’s best runners, at the peak of her career, get involved with training football prospects?
“I did some consulting work with one of my coaches who works with a group called TEST Football in New Jersey,” Hastings recalled. “He and I were doing some work while up there at the facility and one day they just asked ‘hey, would you mind coming in and helping out, we have this event going on?’”
TEST Football Academy is an off-season and NFL Combine training facility that, for more than two decades, has provided prospects with a unique preparation program and has been a building tool for the career of notable NFL players such as Bart Scott, Joe Flacco and Patrick Peterson. Hastings not only spoke to the academy’s athletes about her experience stemming from success but she was also an important station in the circuit of exercises. Hastings explained a drill where athletes cycle their legs while against a wall, which highlights recovery and, as Hastings explained, focuses on sprint mechanics, forcing athletes to hold an upright position of knees up-toes up and not striking the ground with heels.
Coming in and teaching some of college football’s elite was a little nerve-racking for Hastings.
“I didn’t know what to expect because I was a girl and I knew I was going to be walking into a situation that was just men – and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received. When I got there, I was put into what they were working on and I kind of blended my expertise to what they were already doing. It felt more like athlete to athlete versus, you know, this is a woman trying to come in and coach us.”
The level of talent Hastings was working with varied from potential late round prospects to those who could be considered in the first round. Some work focused on pro days, others the combine. And while certain skill position players had undeniable talent, it was a different breed of athlete that caught Hastings’ eye, especially their willingness to continue to learn and improve – rather than give up.
“I was more impressed with some of the bigger guys, who you don’t necessarily expect to have the best [40-yard-dash] or run very fast but you want them to be powerful – and quick,” Hastings admitted. “I was impressed by how eager [the linemen] still were to learn and workout.”
Hastings hopes to congratulate her workout partners in person because, as fate would have it, she will be in the City of Brotherly Love this weekend for the Penn Relays, one of track and field’s oldest and biggest events. With about 300,000 spectators expected to visit Franklin Field – the former home of the Philadelphia Eagles – for the event, it helps propel the sport at all the various levels. There will be plenty of distractions for Hastings over the weekend but once in Philadelphia, her only focus is running.
“I’m there to run and then hopefully I can catch up,” she said. “It was always kind of a big deal to be at the Penn Relays and I think it’s a really good opportunity that both events are going on simultaneously. Track and field is the No. 1 participatory high school sport and then, for some reason, there’s some disconnect after that. I think being able to cross-market the event is something worthwhile.”
But at this point, Hastings knows she cannot run forever and has considered once again coaching another crop of NFL hopefuls next year. It seems as though she might’ve found her next calling.
“[Coaching] is something I would like to do on the side because I do like sharing with other athletes, especially younger athletes, but I do think people don’t realize how demanding coaching is,” Hastings added. “It’s something that I’m still trying to figure out the balance, in terms of it’s something I would love to do but I just don’t know on what level that I love to do it, if that makes sense.”