John Brenkus is the creator and host of the television program SportScience. Gillette graciously paired me up with Mr. Brenkus as part of Gillette’s current ad campaign “Precision Play of the Week.” Click the phrase in quotes to look at their Facebook page. Many thanks to Gillette for helping to bring you the following interview. KD is yours truly while JB is Mr. Brenkus.
KD: Hi John, how are you doing today?
JB: I’m doing awesome, thanks for asking.
KD: Great! Well, John, my name is Ken Dye and I’m the former editor and current writer of catcrave.com. Let me start by saying I’ve read a couple of interviews you’ve done and seen your show a number of times. If you will, please tell my readers a little about your background and education and how you got involved in television.
JB: Sure. I went to the University of Virginia’s main campus and got my B.A. there. I majored in Rhetoric Communication Studies (the theory of the argument) while there, but I’ve always been fascinated by science AND sport, so I wound up combining the two. Both have always been BIG passions of mine, and what I did was – well, my brother in law and I started a two-man operation. Our company is BASE Productions, and started small. We got involved with looking at the things going on in sports and applying science to it to find out what’s really at work, using the physical laws, and trying to quantify as many aspects as we can, and paint a picture of the forces at work. Then, we take those and after doing hundreds of tests, learning as we go and becoming more efficient along the way, we’ve gotten the process down quite well. As a company, we’re continuing to grow – we’ve even won three Emmys – simply following our passion. We’ve of course been on ESPN, Fox Sports and continue to do what we really love doing.
KD: Well that’s wonderful. I’ve always been a science geek myself and a sports person, I’m with you on all that. If you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life.
JB: (laughter) Exactly!
KD: How long does it take to put together a show, and what goes on behind the scenes that my readers might be interested in that isn’t readily apparent when we see the final product?
JN: Wow – lots of things. As I’ve said, we are always learning something new even now, but as time has passed we’ve gotten the process down quite well. It really depends on the show, the test and the subject. Some tests are much more complicated to set up and do while others are relatively more simple, so really there is no easy answer. Anywhere from hours to weeks. What you don’t see are all the equipment setups and testing to make sure everything is accurate, the scheduling since athletes are so busy, getting them into the lab, getting them familiar with what we’re going to be doing, what we’re looking for – all that sort of thing.
KD: What’s your own sports resume’ – have you ever played any yourself?
JB: While I was in high school I played football, basketball, baseball, track. I was a good athlete where I was growing up. When I was in elementary school I was the fastest kid. When I got to high school I wasn’t the fastest kid. I started to wonder what it is, during developmental phases, that would make someone else better. You know, my body type and how it changed as I grew up. Why wasn’t (I) the best at what I was doing? What separates a good athlete from the great ones? What is it that makes the difference between a good athlete and those extreme athletes that are at the height of their profession? What separates LeBron James from everybody else? It really helps in appreciating what these athletes can actually do.
KD: Oh, I can appreciate that. I know you say Bo Jackson is the best athlete ever and I wholeheartedly agree. I was a freshman at Auburn when Bo Jackson was a senior in his Heisman-winning season.
JB: Gosh, you are SO fortunate!
KD: Yes I am! I could take hours and tell you stories about what I saw personally, but we’ll save that for another time. I can certainly say I’ve never seen anyone like him, when you consider the combination of power and speed he has – ever – in one package, before or since – I think maybe Adrian Peterson is as close as they get these days, but have you ever been able to test him?
JB: Yeah! We’ve had Adrian Peterson in the lab – he actually set the “SportScience” record for “The Superman Jump” – you know, where the back vaults over the line at the goal line? We do a test on exactly how high he can jump in that particular manner. Adrian Peterson, in full pads and equipment, cleared six feet…”Superman” style. Six feet! Just think about running, jumping up over a pile and clearing six feet.
KD: Yeah, there’s that famous video clip of Walter Payton doing exactly that and landing on his head in the end zone.
JB: Yep, and Walter Payton doesn’t own the record – he can’t get as high as Adrian Peterson.
KD: That’s literally over my head! I’m 5’10″.
JB: Yeah it’s crazy, and Adrian Peterson is a much bigger running back. Just a much larger physical specimen.
KD: Yeah I remember seeing him on TV in his freshman year at Oklahoma and I said “That guy is gonna be a killer in the NFL.” I was shocked he went as late as he went in the draft that year.
JB: He is amazing – it’s no surprise he’s done what he’s done but it is surprising he’s been able to come back from major knee surgery like he’s done. I think he might be the exception to the rule, though.
KD: Oh, I think so too – RGIII is finding that out the hard way right about now. I know you’re trying to get Peyton Manning on, but aside from him, what NFL player do you want to test that you haven’t yet, and what would you look for?
JB: You know, we’re always looking for the best of the best. We feel very blessed to be able to work with the people that we do. The list of options of people we want in the lab is pretty long. We’ve had Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick and we’re always looking for the next rising star.
KD: I’m curious, have you tested any of the Carolina Panthers players? If so, whom did you test and what were the results?
JB: You know what? On the Carolina Panthers, we had Kenjon Barner in the lab. And I’m telling you man, I know he hasn’t gotten any playing time yet, and Colin Kaepernick didn’t play at all his rookie year, but we are very high on Kenjon Barner. His power-to-weight ratio, acceleration, the overall power he can generate is very, very, very impressive. I think that he is incredible! I know he was taken late in the draft but I think he’s going to have a great career.
KD: Wow, interesting! Yeah he’s from Oregon.
KD: One of those very quick running backs Chip Kelly loved so much. What athlete in any sport particularly impressed you and what were you looking for from them?
JB: You know, we’ve had so many athletes in the lab it’s hard to pick just one. We have an unofficial “dunk” contest. We have players in full pads dunk a basketball, and they sure come up with a lot of creative ways to do it. Pretty crazy dunks. There are too many to choose just one, seriously.
Watch out for part II of II tomorrow morning right here at catcrave.com!
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