Tennessean: Prep football gets digital with drones, stats

gne dronesBy Sam Brown for The Tennessean

It’s just one of many ways technology is changing high school football.

At a recent Hillsboro game, a group of three statisticians worked to log live stats into an app called iscore.

“Statswise there’s no pen and paper for us,” Hillsboro assistant coach Dustin Lopez said. “It’s all digital.”

The Tennessean’s top prep performers from Week 3

Taking to the skies

Montgomery Bell Academy jumped on the technology trend last season with the purchase of a $1,300 drone that gives MBA the ability to capture action from just about any angle on the field.

“The most useful thing is the video,” MBA football coach Marty Euverard said. “We use that drone for basically every angle, and it has an incredible view like you would get at a major college football stadium. It really shows what they’re doing, how they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”

The drone, a DJI Phantom 3 Pro Quadcopter, has been used mainly for making promotional videos for the school because of increasing regulation of drones. The Big Red has used it for a game against Ensworth last season, but strict regulations limit its use.

“We took a couple video clips last year just for a highlight video, but it’s not really for the games,” said Marc Ardisson, MBA director of technology at MBA and pilot of the drone. “As high schools and states around the country continue to make the rules a little more strict, we’re just not flying it during our games now.”

While the TSSAA does not have any regulations on drones, the state of Tennessee passed a law on July 1 that makes it illegal to fly unmanned aerial vehicles over fireworks displays, correctional facilities and events of more than 100 people. Violators face up to 30 days in jail.

With a limited battery life and unpredictable weather, in addition to the tightening regulations, drones are still far from becoming an everyday sight, Ardisson said.

“I feel like it’s probably a great thing to use in practice,” he said. “It can give you a great over-the-top look at what you’re doing.”

Hillsboro assistant coach Dustin Lopez uses video software to help compile game film to coach his players.

Hillsboro assistant coach Dustin Lopez uses video software to help compile game film to coach his players.

In the Hudl

One tool making life easier for coaches and players is the online video database Hudl, which allows coaches and players to upload, edit, tag and watch film from their phones or tablets.

Coaches and players watch and share film to learn about upcoming teams and their styles of play, as well as find and fix parts of their own game plans. It is also a very useful tool for helping athletes get exposure with college coaches by capturing their play for anyone to see.

“It’s really good, especially for your kids that aren’t so much SEC kids or anything like that, a lot of your under-the-radar kids,” Lopez said. “Hudl allows you to get them to all these colleges that maybe want film at the click of the button.”

For kids such as Cane Ridge junior quarterback D.J. Thorpe, sending out links to footage can pay quick dividends.

“I’ve sent my film out to plenty of colleges and recruiting programs so I can get more exposure and get more people looking at me,” Thorpe said. “I’ve gotten response from recruiting websites and some coaches back in the summer when I went to their camps.”

And Hudl is a tool with many functions besides helping athletes gain exposure.

“I remember when I first started coaching seven or eight years ago I ended up having to be the film guy, and sometimes you’re driving up to two hours to meet up with a coach just to swap film,” Lopez said. “Now you’re just sitting there on your laptop, and you get them swapped on a Friday night after the game and you’re watching your film 10 minutes later.”

Hudl also allows coaches to tag players in film to see who is watching it, and to see if they are fulfilling the required viewing time.

“They can watch film on their own time and we can keep up with how long they’ve been logged in so you can tell who’s watching film and who’s not,” Lopez said. “I’ll pop on my laptop and see who’s been watching it.”

Friday night (high)lights

Under the hood

While Hudl provides a great way to watch and share film after a game, some schools are making upgrades in their ability to watch replays sooner.

Siegel High School set up a video replay system in a tent behind one of the end zones at the team’s Aug. 28 game against Hendersonville. It gave the Stars the ability to review plays immediately after they happened.

“It’s a video replay system we’ve taken and put on a TV to where we can go sit under the tent and replay plays that we taped,” Siegel football coach Greg Wyant said. “We have a camera shot from up top and the end-zone camera shot, and both those shots are sent to the computer on the sideline through the Wi-Fi and that’s loaded onto the computer. It’s almost instantaneous that you can go back and replay different things.”

Siegel also has made it easier for its players to access and learn the playbook.

“We’re able to now put our playbook online for our kids to be able to access all the time,” Wyant said. “We can do practice scripts. Just be able to break down a team; you don’t have to get a pencil and paper out and tapemark anything anymore. The computer pretty much does that for you now.”

Whether teams are flying drones for a better view, trading film via Hudl, keeping stats on an iPad or making replays more accessible, all signs point to the marriage between football and technology.

“I compare it to the movie ‘Moneyball,’ about Billy Beane,” Lopez said. “You’ve got to adjust. … But if there’s an easier, more successful way that you can spread this data around, you’d be a fool not adapt.”

Reach Sam Brown at 615-259-8232 and on Twitter @SamBrownTN.

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