Nicco Marchiol, just a sophomore at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, already has an offer to play football at the University of Colorado in 2022. But then, the Buffs will have to beat out the likes of Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida Atlantic, all of which have also extended Marchiol scholarship bait.
At 16, Nicco is 6-foot-2 and weighs 205 pounds. He has a sharp mind for the game; his arm is a catapult; he moves like a cat. Combine all this and you get one of the nation’s top young quarterback prospects.
Nicco intends to fulfill his vast potential. Doing so involves improving his on-field decision-making and skills, his strength, and his speed and agility. With respect to the last of these, the challenge is this: How do you improve the speed and agility of someone who already moves like a cat? The answer for Nicco is in UCHealth Sports Performance powered by Elite Speed.
During a summer of college visits (his dad Ken, who once played for the New Orleans Saints, scrolls through photos of Nicco’s visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan where the young QB smiled with a retired QB, University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh), invitation-only camps, and biweekly trips to Phoenix to train with to quarterback whisperer Mike Giovando, Nicco has been working with Elite Speed co-founder Nick Vinson twice a week at UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver.
Despite having run the 400-meter dash and the 400-meter hurdles for the University of Northern Colorado and University of Colorado track teams, Vinson, 37, describes himself as a “failed athlete.”
“I worked harder than everybody but got worse,” he says.
Elite Speed emerged from the reason why: Optimizing athletic performance is not just about sheer training effort, but rather technique augmented by power, flexibility, sport-specific conditioning, and recovery, Vinson says.
Not just strength
Vinson’s approach starts with biomechanical balance – that is, making sure muscle groups work collaboratively and not competitively, which heightens injury risk – then moves through instilling proper technique; augmenting that technique with added strength; and, finally, integrating it all into sport-specific action. It works: Elite Speed now employs 24 full-time trainers who work with kids as young as eight, athletes of all sorts, on through to seniors aiming to improve their quality of life through improved fitness. Vinson specializes in professional and college athletes – primarily football and baseball players – and the occasional high school star like Nicco.
“My kids are all about getting the best-of-the-best training. This is a premier facility – and we’ve been everywhere,” Ken Marchiol says.
The elder Marchiol notes the sea change in training approaches since his NFL days in the 1980s.
“It’s about complex movements that don’t isolate just one set of muscles. The focus on core strength is another big difference,” he says. “This is comprehensive in that it builds agility while maintaining strength and mobility. Physics creates speed – it’s about technique and biomechanics. There’s no more ‘strongest guy wins’ stuff.”
Nicco and a Regis Jesuit wide receiver joining him for the workout on this hot July afternoon start with what Vinson calls a “full activation protocol” of stretching, hopping and such on an expanse of well-cushioned indoor turf near the new UCHealth Steadman Hawkins facility’s towering southern glass façade. The aim is to make sure muscles soon to be taxed have a chance to wake up first. They then move to the 50-yard-long indoor turf sprint lane. Vinson has the young athletes shuffle back and forth at erratic intervals on his call of “switch!” before turning to bust into a sprint when he says “cut.” He focuses on their shin position as they accelerate. He wants to see knees up, back straight, and feet close to the ground.
“Imagine a stick through your opposite ankle. Kick through the stick,” he instructs.
Nicco switch-switch-switch-cuts again.
“You didn’t pop up – why?” Vinson asks.
“I was hunched over,” Nicco says.
Strength and form
They move back to squat racks over by the big glass windows, where Vinson has the boys do a couple of reps with 135 pounds across their shoulders. This is, for them, light. Vinson is merely observing their form: based on knee angles and hip shifts he can deduce their overall musculoskeletal status. One is reminded of a master mechanic who can diagnose an engine problem based on the sound of the motor.
“It’s a final all-systems check,” Vinson explains.
All systems are go, which means swapping red Ivanko 45-pound plates out for yellow 25-pounders to cut the barbell’s weight to 95 pounds. With that, they do lateral single-leg lunges to strengthen the lateral rotator muscles of the hips, the hamstrings, and the glutes. This freighted sidestepping looks unpleasant, and it is.
“These haunt my dreams,” Vinson says. “I have to be forced to do these.”
But the boys appear entirely undaunted as Vinson encourages and occasionally corrects. Minutes later, Vinson rolls open one of the south façade’s three large glass overhead doors and the boys and Vinson and Ken Marchiol duck outside to a half football field of deep-green turf. The lines, numbers and yard markers are the whitest things in the universe; across Interstate 25, the top of the Ikea store is the bluest. As groundskeepers put the finishing touches on the landscaping at the far flank, Vinson has the boys cutting and accelerating among a handful of cones. The focus, he explains, is on proper form when changing direction at an angle sharper than 90 degrees.
He tells the boys to kick their knees high as they pivot so as to get their hips pointed in the right direction. That motion, Vinson says, not only turns the body and generates momentum, but also – and more importantly – raises the body to a point that the power stroke of the planted leg is maximized.
“Out! Open! Open again!” Vinson hollers. “Good!”
As they walk back inside, he reminds the boys that what they’re doing isn’t easy.
“This is stuff that 20-year guys work on every day,” he says.
There are more dream-haunting side lunges and other nasty-looking exercises, more cone drills in the hot sun, and more sprint-lane sessions, now with a torture implement called a Tank M4 friction sled. One at a time, they lean into this vastly bulked-up, blackened-steel metastasis of a Radio Flyer wagon, which cruelly boosts resistance the harder they push. Vinson coaches a straight back aligned with the planted leg when it’s extended, which he describes as the “A” position. This allows greater leverage on the push-off. He wants their toes skimming on the turf as they swing their legs back forward. Then it’s back outside, back to the squat racks and, finally, back to the turf by the windows, where they commence with a warm down that looks not too different than the warmup.
“It’s a workout every time,” Nicco says, having wrapped it all up. “I feel like I’m getting a lot of speed and change in direction that will help me on the field.”
He seems as appreciative as he is athletic.
“This is outstanding,” Nicco says. “The top athletes in Colorado and in the country are coming here to be the best they can be.”