Elite performance center trains top student-athletes for next level as COVID-19 impacts sports world

The COVID-19 pandemic is shifting the sports world as programs try to salvage the season in an era of coronavirus. With more schools in Washington turning to remote learning, student-athletes are scrambling to figure out how to take their skills to the next level.

However, none are feeling the pinch quite like student athletes who have invested years of training and lots of money in hopes of landing a college scholarship or professional offer.

Ford Sports Performance in Bellevue is known as one of the most renowned performance centers in Washington, where professional athletes to heavily recruited high school students work out.

CEO Tracy Ford said he and his team are working hard to help those top elite student-athletes make the best of the revolving changes in sports.

“It’s just shifting the mentality for the kids and spinning it into a positive way on the things that we can do to help because we can’t control anything that we can’t control,” said Ford. “We’ve got to stay ready so we don’t have to get ready. And that’s the biggest thing, we just can’t take steps backwards. We have to continue to take steps forward.”

Cole Norah, a senior at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, is one of FSP’s athletes. Norah said he has been playing football since he was seven-years-old. It was fourth grade when he realized he had a future in the sport.

“In that moment I knew this is what I want to do for as long as I can do it,” said Norah.

For the past year, he has been training at FSP to get ready for his senior year of football. In part of his training, Norah joined FSP’s “7 on 7” elite traveling team to compete in tournaments. This gave him an opportunity to show his skills to college recruiters during three tournaments right before the pandemic.

“This is the best place where are you can get your grades up, you can get right physically, mentally. They have strength coaches, teachers, tutors and everything, let alone the NFL guys that come here every morning to watch, train and pick their brain to see how they got to that level,” said Norah.

Once the outbreak closed schools in the spring, Norah said he was relying on his final high school football season in the fall to land a scholarship. However, as more schools across Washington announce remote learning to reduce coronavirus exposure, it also shifted sports programs.

Norah said, at first, he was worried.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do and I don’t know how that’s going to work anymore. But I realized this is happening to literally everyone in the world, so I can’t just be selfish and think about myself,” said Norah.

Norah's positive attitude is fueling his training because he said he knows he still has a shot. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recently announced plans for a football season starting in February 2021.

“I am more hopeful that it’s really going to happen and it’s kind of a definitive thing that we are going to have a season,” said Norah.

“The good thing is we have more time to train, we have more time to develop, we’re going to utilize this time as these kids are basically going to be college red shirt freshman,” said Ford.

FSP has a reputation of developing star athletes. Ford said his program and team have had to get creative during the pandemic to help the kids and maintain their good name. He said they are filming drills to catch the attention of college recruiters and professional teams since they aren’t coming to the facility to watch in person.

“What do you need to see from us and we’re going to film it and that’s just how life has to be right now. And it’s on the fact that you know I’m credible, I’m not going to lie to you. We’re going to try to give you everything that these athletes need so they’re able to actually be evaluated,” said Ford.

Off the turf, FSP will have tutors available at its academic center to help students with remote learning.

“Having a set plan of your going to work out at this time, you’re going to do your homework at this time, you’re going to do speed training at this time. Literally putting these kids on a schedule so they can have it because they’re not in school like they would usually have,” said Ford.

Social media has also been a big part of student athletes getting some attention. Norah said he has been using Twitter to post videos and messaging recruiters and coaches to check out his work.

As he navigates his future in football in these uncertain times, Norah said he knows one thing is for sure – he’s going to put in the work to one day perform at his best.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for. So, I guess just training, getting my body right for the season. I’m just excited. I am just ready to play, we’ve been waiting long enough. I’m ready, we’re ready to go,” said Norah. “Everybody is going to find a way. The strongest people are going to find a way to do it.”