The only thing missing was a pair of gold running shoes.
Darren McFadden wowed NFL scouts Sunday with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The University of Arkansas running back was officially clocked at 4.33 seconds, although his first attempt was unofficially run at 4.27. Both marks were especially impressive considering McFadden’s size (6-foot-1 and 214 pounds) and cemented his status as the top running back prospect heading into April’s draft.
McFadden attributes his success to the legendary sprinter who made that aforementioned sneaker style famous: Michael Johnson.
Before his Combine run, McFadden worked extensively with the five-time Olympic gold medalist at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas.
“I feel like my start and my 40 time speaks for how well he trains,” McFadden told FOXSports.com on Tuesday.
McFadden’s quick acceleration especially impressed one NFL personnel director. He also praised McFadden for getting quickly into his stance and staying low upon takeoff.
Johnson told FOXSports.com that McFadden was taught those techniques when the two began training in mid-January.
“His start was very explosive, which is a big part of why he was able to run such a fast time,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We work on locking in a starting position — putting their hand down, finding their feet placement, bringing their left arm up and a few other things — and then the explosion.”
Johnson said McFadden was posting 40 speeds in the “4.5, 4.6 (second) range” when arriving at the training center. The first step to lowering that time was analyzing McFadden’s running style through use of technology. Johnson and his staff utilized software that helped capture McFadden running at 1,000 frames per second.
Once McFadden’s starting technique was tweaked, Johnson said the next focus was on the “drive phase.”
“When you come out of a start and your body is at about a 90-degree angle, you try to maximize that drive position and transition into what we call maximum velocity — running at full speed,” Johnson said. "The transition has to be smooth. If there’s a lot of herky-jerky movements, it adds time.
“You’re only talking about running 40 yards, so any inefficient movement will be magnified as opposed to the 200- or 400-meter (dash).”
Those are the sprints in which Johnson set world records during the 1990s. When his track and field career began winding down, Johnson made the transition to training athletes. He began working with NFL draft prospects in 2001.
McFadden and Razorbacks teammate Felix Jones — who had the ninth-fastest 40 time (4.47) among running backs who ran in Indy — also prepared for other Combine drills at Johnson’s training center. Sessions were held six days a week, which led to Johnson and McFadden spending extensive time together.
“You think about the fact he won five gold medals and you wouldn’t think he would spend as much time working one-on-one with you, but he does,” McFadden said. “He works with everyone and treats everyone the same — with respect. He’s just a great guy to be around.”
The two have become so close that Johnson personally watched McFadden run at the Combine.
“I was elated because I knew he could do it,” Johnson said. "His execution was almost perfect. For a guy to be able to do that after four weeks of training is great.
“One thing about Darren I noticed when he first came to me was an amazing ability to take direction and implement it. Usually, guys rely more on their athleticism.”
A blazing 40 time wasn’t the only Combine buzz surrounding McFadden. He was also grilled by teams and reporters about character concerns that include several legal scrapes and paternity issues.
Johnson, though, said he was impressed with how McFadden carried himself during their work together.
“He’s a guy who wants to be a good guy,” Johnson said. “He’s aware of all the off-field character issues being brought up. In spending time with him, I can tell he does take responsibility. That’s a good thing.”
As arguably the world’s all-time greatest sprinter, Johnson is frequently asked how quickly he ran the 40. His answer: “I never did.”
“The 40 is huge in football but doesn’t exist anywhere else,” he said. “For example, soccer players don’t run it and track athletes start at 60 meters (i.e. 66 yards). The 40 is used to measure speed and quickness whereas in track there’s an endurance component even in events like the 100-meter dash. It’s a lot different.”
So is McFadden after a month under Johnson’s tutelage.