Back in 2010, Spencerville head football coach John Zerbe went to a coaching clinic along with his then assistant coach Darren Sharp and they got a glimpse of the future of football.
The two did not know at the time they were seeing it or even imagined that what they were getting six years ago, a new technology of strategy software driven by tablets, would soon become the standard for all football teams.
Zerbe was not totally sold on it but Sharp convinced him to try it out.
“It was really more him (Sharp) saying take a shot at it and he was right. It kind of ended up being the standard for all coaches to use,” Zerbe said.
This year, tablets will become just as prevalent as helmets on the sidelines as more area high school football teams have also brought this new technology to their programs.
Whiteboards are fast going the way of the drop kick. And while there are still some veteran coaches who like doing it the old school Vince Lombardi way, most agree the new technology is a valuable tool in a variety of ways.
Wapakoneta head coach Travis Moyer said, “We are going to have access to all of that on the sideline and incorporate that throughout the game which is new for us. We haven’t done that in the past. It is something we are going to try and take advantage of this year. I’ve always said when technology works its great and really useful but when it doesn’t work… well we can all relate to that.
“We are trying to utilize it the best we can to help put our kids in a position to be successful. The one thing that I learned when I got out of football for a couple of years is we need to work smarter not harder and obviously if technology helps us with that then we will definitely use it.”
Moyer, who said he coaches by what he sees and feels, admitted that he will let the younger members of his coaching staff handle the tracking on the tablets while he will continue they way he has always coached.
“The one negative is that sometimes you can lose that feel for the game. I’m a feel guy, so to speak, so I like to have that feel. But it definitely has impacted our game.”
The strategy software the majority of the high school teams use is called “hudl.”
Hudl provides data where coaches can run default or custom reports to find opponents tendencies as well as add notes and telestrations to clips. Teams can study video anytime with their mobile devises and coaches can include their playbooks into the the tablet. Coaches can also directly write messages to players or e-mail and text the whole team about team activities or watch specific films.
St. Marys head coach Doug Frye, who also will let his younger staff handle the tablet tasks, said, “Coaching is human but with the technology it allows for immediate feedback and you don’t have to wait. It is even more helpful for our kids because they have grown up in a technology world, they learn quicker with the tablets.”
Before jumping into the 21st century, teams must procure money to fund these ventures. The software combined with the purchase of cameras and tablets adds up to a small chunk of change for most small schools already fighting the budget war.
As the athletic director, Zerbe said at the time they began their journey into the technology world it cost around $800 a year for each sport and “we have a great booster club that who decided to purchase for the entire school which made it twice that cost so it doubled the amount paid out.”
Since then the price has gone up and it is around $1,400 a year for a subscription to the Hudl software.
Ada athletic director Ken Jochims said they are not completely all in but about in the middle . One reason being the cost and the second being the age of the coaches.
“This is another place where you have to look for money,” said Jochims, who said the booster club was instrumental in funding the new technology. “As we transition with younger coaches we are seeing more and more ask for it.”
Frye said, “I’m utterly amazed by it. We are right on the forefront on the technology front. We are thankful to our booster club who came in and supplied the money because staying up with the technology is not an easy inexpensive venture by any means.”
Frye added that this year his team is going all in with five tablets for game use this year both on the sideline and in the coaching boxes.
A number of schools stream that action from a tablet on the field to the tablet in the coaches box or the sidelines. At Spencerville, the Bearcats purchased high definition cameras in the stadium just to get a better picture.
“It is not always the speed of how fast you get it up there (to the tablet), but more how does it look when you get it up there,” Zerbe said.
After clearing the economic obstacle, teams must then have members of the coaching staff with a little technology know how and the willingness to put in the time to maximize the full potential of the software.
If done thoroughly, teams can learn the opposing team’s tendencies and strategies as well as evaluate individual players and their strengths and weaknesses.
One of the main reasons Zerbe decided to get the new technology was to begin to decimate his opponent as quickly as possible. After each game most teams download their game film to hudl and the other team can begin the process of planning as early as Saturday morning.
“The hardest part is entering all that information,” Zerbe said. “I have a coach on my staff that does all that (enters the data) and then I go in and crunch all the numbers out. It would take all weekend to do that by hand but with the technology it really makes your life better.”
Most teams are required by their league to download their game film to the system right after finishing their contest. It simply means pressing a “trade” button with your opposition and in no time the teams are in possession of game film.
This is a far cry from the projection game films Frye had to wait to be developed back in the early 80s or more recently when coaches had to wait for DVDs and meet at some random restaurant that was located close the midway point of the two schools.
“I started in 1981 and one of my jobs was to drive to Columbus and get the film developed. I had to take it down,” Frye said. “By the time they got it developed there wasn’t a whole lot of sleep that night. I tell our young assistants don’t know how good they have it.”
Every coach has their own horror stories about traveling to pick up film, getting the film back to their respective owners and not losing them in the process.
Depending on the coaching staff, some of the younger, more tech savvy coaches will begin the process that Friday night that probably makes for some long nights for some of the assistant coaches.
While a number of teams do have a Saturday morning film session, Zerbe likes to wait a couple of days before introducing the opposing team’s game film to his squad. The two primary reasons for this are because he wants his team to get a little distance from the previous match as well as giving his staff a chance to evaluate the film.
While some of the larger schools have gone completely over, some of the smaller schools are using hudl off the field but not using it on the sidelines.
Upper Scioto Valley head coach Josh Spencer said it doesn’t make sense to have tablets on the sideline when so many of his players play on offense and defense.
“We use the hudl but we don’t use the Ipads on the sidelines,” Spencer said. “We haven’t got there yet. It’s not something we have looked into a lot. Honestly, we two-platoon so many kids so its not like we can stop to talk to them. Our quarterback. is going to be playing defense too so its not like you see in the college and in the NFL where you can sit down with the quarterback and say this is what the defense is doing or this is what the offense is doing. He’s out there playing defense.
Spencer added that it is more than likely than can use it at halftime or in between quarters but in his opinion it wouldn’t be beneficial to the Rams and uses the analogy of teams having kicking nets on the sideline who can practice field goals when the kicker is not playing and points out that “our kicker is on the field all the time.’”
This is a similar case at Pandora-Gilboa where head coach Chris Myers has a small staff and doesn’t have time to break down plays during the game. He also admits that he is a little old school and still likes to diagram plays and formations.
However, because he does have the capability to show films in a more mobile way, Myers will have film sessions during lunch and this helps save valuable practice time.
Zerbe adds that as coaches they can break down every clip and add notes that will pop up as they watch the clip. Coaches can also add a voice recording that will also give the player instruction.
“You can make it very technical,” Zerbe said. “I do more of dividing up my roster in groups by position and just send a note to the linebackers where they just get it and the rest of the team does not.”
Waynesfield-Goshen is another school fights the number’s game every year but that has embraced hudl. Tiger head coach Shane Wireman said they are putting their playbook on hudl.
“Kids they are more engaged in it,” Wireman said. “You can bring them in and say here is the film and now you can uploaded for them to see.”
One item all coaches like about the software is they can see how many times a player has logged on to watch films and assignments.
Tablets and technology are not going to immediately turn your football program around and with pretty much everyone is using it, the playing field is pretty much level in terms of this new tool. But it doesn’t hurt to have a tech geek on the coaching staff to hopefully give a team the edge they need to win.
“I think it is important to have a guy on your staff who enjoys doing this because some times as a head coach you run out of time, but if you can have a quality assistant, it really can make a huge difference in the outcome of games.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter @JoseNogueras1