Prep football: Coaches lean on the Internet for watching film
Russ Jones used to use Super 8 film when reviewing game footage. He remembers splicing up plays by offense or defense, formations and other categories over the course of hours and hours.
When he was done, he might've watched the whole game footage three or four times.
The same tasks now are done in minutes. All using a mouse and a keypad.
Ever heard of Hudl? Utah high school football coaches have. And to them, it's a godsend.
"It makes it really easy to trade film, watch film with the kids, make our own highlight tapes," said Jones, now the coach at Syracuse. "It saves us just hours and hours."
Hudl is the latest craze that has made its way to computers in coaches' offices all over the state. It's a digital sharing program that allows coaches to splice up film and send it out to players, who can watch it on their own time on their home computers or smartphones.
Jones first heard about it from other coaches through word of mouth. Who had Hudl? Who didn't? Could you send your film through it? Everyone slowly seemed to get it.
He found out what all the fuss was about in the middle of last season. No more copying DVDs or VHS tapes. No more Monday morning drives out to swap film with opposing coaches. Players could have game footage just an hour or two after playing the game.
Jones said the impact was very tangible, even in the latter portion of the season as the Titans made a run to the Class 5A semifinals.
"You'd have to burn a DVD for a kid and tell him to watch it over the weekend," Jones said. "Now we just have every kid's email address, and we send it out in a matter of minutes. I've even had parents tell me they enjoy being able to watch the film with their kids."
The Saturday morning group film sessions are still around. So is copious note-taking and rewinding in darkened classrooms, with coaches picking and critiquing every stance, every shift.
Gone are the 3:30 a.m. alarms Bingham coach Dave Peck would set to stop recording one VHS tape and get another copy started. DVDs were a revolution, but now high school football has come to reflect the digital age we live in.
"I use it seven days a week," Peck said proudly. "It's gone national. There's not a college program in the nation that isn't on Hudl. In every game this year, every team we've played has used it. We just do it all online."
The standard cost for using Hudl is about $1,600, which comes from fundraisers and most football programs' general budgets. But it saves money in other ways: Coaches don't have to drive anywhere to swap film and don't have to hire companies to make highlight films.
In fact, coaches and players can make their own films and email them to colleges, which increases the accessibility for scouting talent. The availability of studying material means more sophisticated observations and breakdowns as well. Some players even chime in with their own notes and tips.
Peck said his starters all watch at least two to three hours of film a week on their own, and some watch as much as 10 hours. Coaches can keep track of who is watching through the program itself, which keeps a running count for each player of how much time they spend on it.
Such a feature raises questions of whether it's asking too much of a teenager to spend time watching football plays on his own while also balancing homework and other responsibilities.
But coaches say most don't spend enough time on film that it would be a concern. Those who do simply are preparing for the next level.
"Speaking for my three boys, I would rather them watch some film than play video games," Peck said. "We don't put too much pressure on the kids, but we do point it out to guys who don't watch it. It's what you're going to do in college or if you make it to the pros. It's an easier way to learn to break down film."
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