Football coaches turn to web video

Tariq Lane passes as South Brunswick High School hosts the Laney football team on Oct. 4, 2013. StarNews file photo

For years, Kevin Motsinger kept a routine on Saturday mornings in the fall familiar to high school football coaches across the country. If the New Hanover coach wanted game film of his team’s next opponent, his only option was a face-to-face exchange.

Running on just a few hours of sleep, Motsinger would hit the road bright and early with his wife, Perry. The couple tried to make the most of rare quality time during a hectic season, often squeezing in a stop for breakfast along the way.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Motsinger said. “I’ve been blessed to have a wife that loved it.”

Now with two young children at home, Motsinger doesn’t get much more rest on weekends these days, but technology has helped make his schedule more family friendly.

For the first time this fall every team on New Hanover’s schedule has used Hudl, a web-based video analysis service. Motsinger can now upload film and share it with a few clicks of the mouse.

More than 13,000 high schools nationwide are using Hudl this season, including an increasing number in Southeastern North Carolina. All football teams in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties and most in the surrounding area are subscribers this year, many of them for the first time.

Football coaches said the tool has changed their jobs, saving hours each week in film breakdown alone. Players appreciate the chance to watch more tape on their own and more easily create highlight videos they can use to market themselves to colleges.

“We have a lot more things to have to monitor and keep up with, and the kids have a lot more they’re doing, too,” said South Columbus coach Jake Fonvielle said. “You’re pulled a lot of different directions in this day and time and anything that can take a little bit off your plate, it’s a no brainer.”

Started in 2006 by three students at the University of Nebraska, Hudl marketed exclusively to college and pro teams early on but has gained major influence in high school football.

Hudl operates as a yearly subscription service with most local teams on an $800 basic package. It is also available for basketball and other sports. Brunswick County bought access for all three of its football teams but most rely on funding from either their school’s athletic budget or booster club.

Hudl’s local presence remained spotty until this season, a spike that can be attributed in large part to a domino effect from teams not wanting to be left behind.

“If you’re doing DVD trading now, everybody thinks something’s wrong with you,” joked Whiteville coach Luke Little, whose team is using Hudl for the first time.

Wallace-Rose Hill was among the first area teams to begin using Hudl in 2011. Coach Joey Price had seen opponents from other parts of the state using it during the playoffs.

Since many of its local opponents didn’t adopt the technology until this season, Wallace-Rose Hill still went through the same headaches with converting its film to DVD for sharing the past few seasons. The lengthy film trading trips remained a part of the job.

Still the Bulldogs had advantages as early adopters. The service allows coaches to tag plays with information, such as down-and-distance, location on the field and formation.

Hudl then provides information on playcalling trends and situational strengths for both sides of the ball. Many coaches already did this with painstaking film study and manual note taking.

Game breakdowns that used to take up to six hours can now be accomplished in about 90 minutes, according to estimates from several coaches.

“I don’t want to be without it now,” Price said. “If we had to go back the other way, my film guy, he’d quit, probably.”

The players are granted free access to the service by their coaches, allowing them instant access to film on any computer, tablet or smart phone.

Coaches can watch the film alone and add feedback for specific players on certain plays. The players can then comment back, a form of remote coaching that can eliminate the need for lengthy team film sessions and get the corrections to the players more quickly. The coaches can also track how long players spend on the site.

New Hanover quarterback Ward Coleman said he was disappointed with a few poor decisions in his team’s season-opening loss to Conway (S.C.) on Aug. 31. Shortly after the team bus arrived back in town from Myrtle Beach, Coleman logged onto his laptop and was able to take time reviewing his performance before bed.

Recruiting help

“It’s kind of exciting,” Hoggard senior defensive lineman Malik Moore said. “You want to get on there (after a game) and see how you did. You get to learn from your mistakes.”

On the recruiting front, an updated Hudl profile has practically become an expectation.

Hoggard coach Scott Braswell remembers the days when coaches had one copy of a recruit’s highlights on 16 millimeter film, and he would have to wait for a college coach to send it back before it could go on to another one.

Highlights on VHS and DVD could be reproduced much more easily but the process was still time consuming. Motsinger estimates last year he spent about $600 per year on DVDs and postage, often pulling from his own pocket to help boost his players in the recruiting process.

Now Fonvielle has an assistant in charge of logging players’ highlights in real-time as they watch film as a staff.

By the time the review is finished, each player has an updated highlight reel from that game, ready to post on Hudl for viewing by college coaches.

“The fewer steps the college coach has to take, the better for the student athlete,” Braswell said. “You want it right in the (e-mail) in-box like that. It’s not like a DVD that can get lost or damaged.”

In some ways, Hudl helps level the playing field in recruiting. It allows more players the chance to create a professional-looking highlight reel, but it can also make it harder to stand out from the crowd.

Laney junior Tariq Lane is mindful of the message his personal Hudl page sends. The All-Area quarterback said he’s constantly watching highlights of other players and tinkering with his own video, sometimes even during breaks in the school day.

“I’ve got the app,” Lane said. “I can just go to a play, tap it two times and it’s a highlight.”

Coaches have implemented the new technology on the fly this season, most with relatively few hiccups. Ashley coach Tom Eanes entrusted his sons, Drew and Matt, to learn the system before the season, but the veteran coach has also taken the time to grasp the basics.

Trask coach Glenn Sellers, 48, has put countless hours into preparing teams for the Friday night stage, a process that keeps evolving through the years.

“I think if you want to keep up you’ve got to adapt,” Sellers said. “This is a piece of technology that is helpful. … You want to work smarter and not harder.”