High Tech Huddle

Football has joined the digital age


Hendricken offensive coordinator Frank Pantaleo doesn’t mince words when talking about the impact that Hudl has had on the school’s football program.

“That first year (in 2010), I can honestly that Hudl is the reason we won the Super Bowl,” Pantaleo said.

That victory over Portsmouth began a streak of three consecutive Super Bowl victories for the Hawks, a number that very well may increase to four this season.

And for all the All-State players and clutch moments that Hendricken has produced in recent years, Hudl has been at the center of it all, giving the Hawks the tools they need to perform to the best of their abilities.

So what is Hudl?

Essentially, it’s a service that has re-invented film study and the way that high school, college and pro athletes – namely football players – are able to prepare.

No more thick playbooks, and no more burned DVD’s to hand out to each individual player.

Now, all of that is available with the click of a button.

“Once you get home on a Friday night, these kids can be watching that film first thing Saturday morning,” Cranston East head coach Tom Centore said. “It’s really changed the game of film and editing and all the different things with how you exchange film.”

Hudl was founded in Omaha, Neb., in 2006 with the goal of modernizing the sometimes-agonizing components of America’s most detail-oriented sport, and providing an opportunity for individuals to improve in ways that weren’t otherwise available to them. Whether that was producing highlight videos, zeroing in on game film or making playbooks more accessible, there were plenty of reasons to get football’s classroom aspects online.

And so, the company was born. It’s taken off from there. Seven of the nine Division I schools in Rhode Island now use Hudl, with Hendricken and East starting the trend a few years back. Only Tolman and East Providence don’t use it. Other schools, including Toll Gate, use it as well.

The program allows coaches to upload their game film onto a secure server that only they can access and then go from there. They can watch the film and manipulate it using a number of different options, such as down-and-distance, formation and personnel package. Then, they can elect to share it with certain people, usually the players and fellow coaches.

On that film, there are notes that coaches themselves draw in. They can also draw lines and directionals using a telestrator. Once they decide what they want to send out, they do so and it’s instantly accessible to the players. They can watch it basically anywhere, including on smart phones.

It’s an invaluable learning tool that was simply not available in the past. For Hendricken, that means the players can see exactly what they did right and what they did wrong on every single play of a Friday game by the time they get out of bed on Saturday morning.

“Personally, if I have a free period, I’ll watch it on my iPad,” Hendricken offensive lineman Dallas Sauer said. “I’ll look and see where they’re going to be – if they’re a 2 (technique), a 3. I see what I need to fix, what I need to do more on.”

Many teams have also begun to film the games from the end zone, and then upload that film to Hudl. Each play is separated into its own clip, giving the coaches a teaching tool that is second to none. It’s those end zone clips that have made the biggest difference for Hendricken.

“The most helpful thing is that you can see when you’re taking the wrong step or if you blocked the wrong guy on a certain play,” Sauer said. “It keeps everybody accountable. The guy next to me can tell me he’s making his block, but if he’s not, we’ll know by the next day.”

It also makes exchanging game film significantly easier. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League has a rule in its bylaws that upcoming opponents must exchange game film to help teams prepare, and that was always done with physical DVD’s or, going further back, with 8mm tapes.

Now, as long as both teams use Hudl, they can just forward their game tapes to the opposition and it’s all set to go.

It took a little while for most of the coaches in the state to buy in, but now that they have, everyone is reaping the benefits.

“For a while, people were afraid to do it,” Centore said. “You used to have to go and meet the guy with a film. People were afraid to change. Since it’s been this way, it’s made it a lot easier for coaches to make the exchange on a Saturday morning.”

Hudl also allows players to create highlight tapes of themselves, which they can then send to college coaches, who are also on Hudl. In minutes, players can send a tape to a coach and get feedback telling them what they need to do better or whether the school is potentially interested in recruiting them.

“I’ve had some linemen send them out to coaches and they can let them know right away what they like, what they don’t like, if they think they’re recruitable, all of that,” Centore said.

Hudl is even used by referees. If there is a disputed call, coaches can send that game film over to the referees who made the call and see if they can find some common ground. While it won’t change incorrect calls, it’s a teaching tool that should help make the officiating better in the long run.

There aren’t very many drawbacks to the new digital age of football.

“Watching at home is good for the team and for yourself, you can kind of just sit back and relax instead of having Coach (Pantaleo) yelling at you,” Hendricken quarterback Patrick Gill said. “And you can see the comments. And it helps the team too because we don’t have to take time during the week to watch it. We can just come outside to come out and work on what we need to work on, practice and get better.”

Instead of hours-long sessions with the entire team in a film room, high school teams are now putting those hours into actual practices. Film study can be done at home, and there isn’t really a way to get around it either – the coaches can see how much time every player spends looking at film through Hudl, whether it be film of their team or the opposition.

Of course, Hudl does come with a cost. The actual price depends which package the teams elect to purchase, although most teams around the state use a package that is roughly $800. For Hendricken, the cost is paid for by the athletic budget, while most public schools use their booster clubs or fundraisers to organize the money.

It’s all part of football’s evolution. In the same way that the spread offense and read-option are growing parts of the physical game, Hudl is a growing part of the game as well. On Tuesday afternoon at Hendricken football practice, Pantaleo pulled up Hendricken’s Hudl account on his iPhone in a matter of seconds, and accessed full clips, with notes, from last Friday’s victory over Portsmouth.

It’s a new era in high school football, and Rhode Island is not missing out.

“Kids can be at home on a weekend, and you might have already watched film with them, and they can still get all the verbal edits and the telestrator edits at home,” Centore said. “It has so many benefits.”


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