INDIANAPOLIS — The robotic camera swooped around the players, locking on and following their movements.
The flash of a helmet. A tightly gripped ball. A subtle Nike swoosh adorning the otherwise nondescript black and white uniforms. In a matter of weeks, these players’ hands and feet, their silhouettes, will grace the millions of TV screens — shadows promoting one of the football industry’s signature events.
ESPN has partnered with a locally based amateur football team to create promotional footage that will air throughout the media giant’s coverage of the NFL Draft. While film crews were in town for the NFL Scouting Combine last weekend, they shot B-roll and interactive stills, including 360-degree images filmed by a rotating camera, of five members of the Indianapolis Tornados.
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The Tornados, who play in Tier 1 (AAA) of the Premier Amateur Football League and will host home games at Mt. Vernon High School this season, worked with ESPN film crews to capture standard football poses, plays and drills, said Tornados general manager David Seiter.
ESPN could have had its pick of a number of local athletes — but size matters.
And the Indy Tornados look the part, said Gabriella Robuccio, ESPN senior production coordinator.
The silhouette of some of the Indy Tornados could easily pass for an NFL player — a key requirement as ESPN works to create consistent promotional materials, officials said.
“The Tornados were more than willing to help us and best-suited for what we needed based on our research and looking at images of NFL-sized athletes,” Robuccio said. “They were fantastic to work with and delivered on everything we asked for.”
Seiter, of Indianapolis, received an inquiry from ESPN leading up to the combine and passed the message along to his team to weigh members’ interest. About 10 players agreed to sign on, and then it was up to film crews to decided who fit the bill.
Players could be tossed for any reason, no matter how skilled on the field — being too skinny, for example, was a quick way out the door, Seiter said.
“They wanted those bulky, muscular-looking football players,” he said.
Of course, they had to be able to move, too.
With a signal from the camera crew, the athletes burst into action, running through fast-paced agility drills. Video clips show them darting across the small studio, catching a ball tossed from just off screen, going through battle rope exercises, jumps and more.
It all happens against the rapid-fire shutter of a camera, while secondary equipment tracks the movement on film.
The Tornados athletes know their faces won’t be shown on the big screen; they’ll be the mystery stars of footage intended for basic promotional material to break up coverage of April’s draft.
But working with ESPN was a rush all the same — especially for those who dream of one day playing for a team the network covers.
Brandon Williams of Indianapolis, who played for Franklin College, is a wide receiver for the Tornados and hopes to continue his football career professionally.
Rubbing elbows with some of ESPN crew made that dream feel even closer.
“I’m on cloud nine,” he said.
Mike Tambasco of Greenfield enjoyed capturing those moments. As a key-grip with Midwest Grip and Lighting, a production equipment company, Tambasco has coordinated with ESPN to film the NFL Scouting Combine for the past 10 years.
After working with the Tornados last weekend, he said they young semi-pros have earned themselves a new fan. He hopes to attend some of their games once the season starts April 28, with his 8-year-old son in tow.
The Tornados boast fun, family friendly football entertainment at affordable prices. Tickets are $10, and children age 12 and younger are admitted free.
Seiter knows for some residents, their introduction to the team, which comes to Hancock County for the first time this season, will be from the comfort of their living rooms as they settle in to watch their favorite teams take shape.
And he’s OK with that. If nothing else, the exposure is a conversation-starter, both for potential players for the Tornados and sponsors for the team, he said.
“It was a great opportunity for our players to see another side of the sports industry that they haven’t been exposed to before,” Seiter said. “I will be watching every moment of the draft this year.”
The Indianapolis Tornados will play home games at Mt. Vernon High School this year. For more information about the team, visit www.indytornados.com.
Members of the Indianapolis Tornados documented their partnership with ESPN, which recently filmed team members doing drills in order to create stock footage to air during the NFL draft.
Videos from the shoot are available on the team’s Facebook page, Indianapolis Tornados.