Everyone knows BYU defensive back Nate Soelberg is fast — very fast.

He's been the Mountain West Conference 100-meter champion. Still, it was impressive and eye-opening when Soelberg backed up his reputation for quickness with several blistering 40-yard dash times for the NFL scouts on BYU's campus the other day.

Running on Fieldturf, BYU's clocks timed Soelberg in 4.20 seconds. NFL scouts, veteran stopwatch button pushers from the Raiders, Seahawks, Texans, Tampa Bay and Minnesota timed Soelberg in times ranging from 4.21 to 4.26 seconds.

That's cooking.

You throw that into the arena of a debate about 40 times and it becomes even more interesting. Can a human being really run that fast?

BYU conditioning coach Jay Omer is a hard man to convince. He believes a gifted sprinter, under the best conditions, with no wind and a good track, who runs a 4.4 is a rocket. "But I do believe people can run faster and some of those times we hear about are true," Omer said.

This past April, San Diego Union-Tribune sports writer Mark Zeigler researched a great piece on 40 times entitled "Dash of Doubt." The gist of the article is that when scouts use hand-held times, the measurement could be off .15 seconds from reaction time from a starter's motion. If there was a 10-mile per hour tailwind there'd be as little as a .07 second advantage and generally, these times are not accurate and they vary so much because of conditions. Zeigler pointed out Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson is believed to have run 40 yards faster than anyone in history at the 100 meters finals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He was timed at 9.79 seconds that day but was stripped of his medal after testing positive for steroids.

Old Ben was juiced up so much he barely looked human. His muscles looked like balloons and his eyes were yellow.

Writes Zeigler: "Timing officials have since broken down that famed race into 10-meter increments, and Johnson was so preposterously fast that he went through 50 meters in 5.52 seconds and 60 meters in 6.37 seconds, both under the current world records at those (track) distances. He went through 40 yards that day in 4.38 seconds."

Again, Johnson had on spikes on a perfect day, with a small tailwind, coached by one of the best in the world, Charlie Francis. He also had Carl Lewis and six of the fastest humans known to man chasing him and a crowd just under 70,000 screaming in the stadium that day.

So, can Nate run faster than anabolic steroid-doping Ben?

NFL Scouts use their watches and record their times. To them, it is in the books. Until Soelberg runs at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis next February, they've got him down for 4.2-something.

A year ago, Soelberg was timed by BYU folks at 4.19. Folks on the Internet made fun of the time. One of the fastest NFL times for the 40 ever is that of Deion Sanders of Florida State, who ran a 4.17.

But conditions vary, there are fast and slow surfaces. Timers can sometimes anticipate a finish. NFL scouts usually round off to the nearest tenth of a second. For Soelberg, this could be 4.3. You add reaction time, subtract wind and use accepted conversions from hand held times and it could become a psuedo-scientific, post sprint 4.4 or 4.5.

But it could also be sub-4.2.

According to Soelberg's coach Brian Mitchell, the NFL guys have Soelberg down for at least a 4.26.

They could tweak that for altitude because at sea level, he'd likely run over a 4.3.

At San Diego State's Pro Timing Day back in March, the fastest Aztec was safety Marviel Underwood, who ran a 4.38 twice.

The legitimacy of 40 times could be debated and will be. But football coaches will tell you there is 40 speed on a track and then there is football speed during a game with pads and helmet. They are not the same.

For Soelberg, a gifted sprinter from Granger High School, who has trained himself on starts, finishes and form the past 10 years, he's going to have an advantage over a regular football player who is not used to track technique.

But a 4.2?

Yes. By the standards used by these scouts, Soelberg is legit and consistent. One said the only faster guy he'd clocked was Willie Gault.

What really matters for Soelberg is that he uses his talent to become a great cover corner. And tackle.

In football, that's all that matters.

A 4.8 corner who excels at doing those two things is a prize.

But in the meantime, how fast is Nate? Blazing.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com