Everyone has one physical trait that helped get him or her to where they are in sports. For Kenny Stills, Jr., that was certainly his God-given ability of speed. Being a thin framed wide receiver, it paid off dividends and the young man heard his name called in this year’s NFL Draft as the fifth round (144th overall) selection of the New Orleans Saints.
“(My speed) kind of earned me my offers in college,” says Stills, whose father played defensive back for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. “I ran a 4.3 40-yard dash in a local high school combine.”
ON THE FAST TRACK
Stills was then on his way to Oklahoma where he starred for the Sooners before his present situation. But he knows that his best skill could be even greater than it is now if he approached things differently.
“I’m confident in my speed, but I wish that I had taken it more seriously,” he recalls. “I may have been able to shave (my 40 time) down to under 4.3, which is an elite group.”
For the record, Stills, ran a 4.38 in the most recent NFL Combine and 6’, 194-pound wideout certainly opened some scouts eyes with that time. So now that he is fighting for a spot on the Saints’ roster, he knows what he has to do to make head coach Sean Payton a believer.
“Just being able to run all day,” Stills, 21, says of his strategy. “You want to keep the same playing out there on defense to tire them out with the no-huddle offense.”
To keep up his speed and improve his endurance level, Stills performs what he describes as a “CrossFit style workout,” which includes a high amount of repetitions in a series of movements performed in a circuit without rest.
“You want to be moving at all times,” explains Stills. “Doing exercises such as air squats, burpees and cleans. Push yourself to the limit to be in elite shape.”
What he has been doing since donning the gold helmet of the Saints is a power-based workout first (which includes bench presses, squats, etc.) and then to finish the training session with the CrossFit moves, which helps build up his stamina.
When it comes to cardio, Stills prefers to be in the great outdoors instead of in a gym on a machine. “I like to run on the beach back home (in San Diego) and in New Orleans, they have some good hills.
Breaking away from the members of the opponent’s secondary and accumulating YAC (yards after catch), Stills knows that speed will only get him so far. He has to also build up his core for his hips and just plain movement skills.
So besides the football basics such as ladder and cone drills, the Saints strength and conditioning staff has the players emphasizing their core muscles. “Planks, sit-ups, reverse sit-ups and a lot of medicine ball drills,” says Stills. “We’ll sit on the ground with a partner, feet together and throw a 15-pound med ball back and forth for 100 reps.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON…
Being a second-generation NFL player, Stills has been able to use that to his advantage that perhaps most cannot. “With my dad being a former player, I’ve been around the game a long time,” he says. “I’ve watched game film for a long time, so I know where to be on the field at all times.”
Stills will need all of that knowledge and his natural speed to make the 53-man roster. To do that, he will have to earn a spot by also playing special teams, something that he wasn’t accustomed to doing in college. “There are 12 guys at our position (receiver) now and only four or five will make the team,” Stills says. “I’m fighting for a spot on special teams now and I am a return man on both kickoffs and punts and also play on both cover teams.”
Because you can’t teach speed, Stills has a great chance to merely outrun his competition.
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Photo: Kevin A. Koski/NFLPA