Edgar football coach Jerry Sinz has just about seen it all when it comes to scouting high school football teams in his 42 years on the sideline.
He remembers frigid late October nights huddled among parents and students atop the bleachers, writing formations and personnel groups with a pen and paper.
As technology improved, Wildcat coaches would show up at games with heavy, bulky cameras filled with Beta tapes for late night study sessions.
From there came hand-sized cameras capable of producing VHS tapes and eventually moving to disks.
“Every year it seems something changes a little bit,” Sinz said. “We still get together every Sunday at 6 p.m. First we look at our film and things we need to improve on and then we look at the opponents’ film.”
Film now has an entirely different meaning.
Most high schools now use a web-based software has revolutionized high school video review and scouting. There are dozens of scouting companies nationwide, but many schools in central Wisconsin use a program called Hudl.
Based in Lincoln, Neb., Hudl is the brainchild of a trio of self-described sports and computer geeks — John Wirtz, Brian Kaiser and David Graff, all 27 years of age — the founders of Agile Sports, the company behind Hudl which originated in 2006, according to the company website.
The software program basically provides a database and every high school, college and professional football game played, any play, any formation or player for a certain team is at the touch of a finger to any subscriber.
The program isn’t limited to its namesake either.
In addition to football, coaches in volleyball, wrestling, track and field, lacrosse and basketball can turn on the computer and scout their next opponent in the comfort of the living room.
All coaches need to do is login to their account on Hudl, search for a particular team, and almost like magic there is every play any any coach could want to watch.
“We live and die with it,” said Amherst coach Mark Lusic, who may have learned a thing or two about opponents on the way to winning a WIAA Division 5 state championship last fall. “It’s helped us a ton.
“There are no more secrets in this day and age,” Lusic added. “Once you get used to it, it pays for itself and saves hours of our life. For our staff, it’s a life-saver.”
Lusic estimates he and his staff combine to spend 30 hours breaking down video and scouting what the next team on the schedule likes to do according to down and distance on both sides of the football.
But not every coach is convinced that modern technology necessarily means better.
While reluctantly joining the list of area coaches come on board with Hudl this season, Sinz still sends individuals out to games to scout upcoming opponents .
The information is then written down on pieces of paper with lists of 10 plays you need to stop or the top 10 formations teams like to use, and handed out to the players before games for them to study.
Proof that old-school traditions still have a place in high school football scouting.
“I’m not sold on the new technology. The Hudl program is very different, but I’m not sure if it’s better or worse,” Sinz said. “I don’t know if it prepares you any better or improves the quality of your preparation.
“I’m not going to do much with it my self,” Sinz added. “We hired a new coach who is a computer whiz.”
Having access to Hudl doesn’t come cheap.
Stevens Point Area Senior High football coach Pete McAdams said program cost between $800 a season to $3,000, depending on the version.
“I remember when I first started at SPASH, you would trade film or video and get two games of every opponent. And now because of the internet-based storage of video, you can get every opponent and every game,” said McAdams, who is entering his 13th season.
Three things about Hudl seem to stand out to coaches and have made the program the rave among high school coaches in the area — convenience, detail and easy access.
Convenience is at the top of the list.
No longer do players and coaches all have to gather around an office or at someone’s house.
Anyone with access from a team — and that likely means every player and coach — can simply turn on their computer, login to the respective Hudl account and watch play after play from the comfort of their favorite chair or bed with a laptop or tablet in hand.
“All our coaches can go online Saturday or Sunday and by Monday afternoon we have everything we need to prepare the boys for the next game,” Biolo said. “We don’t have to watch film together anymore, which gives the coaches more personal time.”
Players can even create highlight videos of themselves as recruiting tools to send out to colleges.
“The best part is the kids don’t have to go to school to watch video anymore. You can tell them what they should watch and they can do it on their computer,” Lusic said. “Some kids watch and some kids don’t.”
The software comes in handy in more ways than finding out the tendencies of an upcoming opponents, but coaches are able to break down their own players in the most minute of details if wanted.
“Sometimes I wonder if we could scout the old way,” Biolo said. “Scouting (in person is not a big deal to me any more because I can get everything I want online.
“I don’t want to have to send our coaches out to scout, and thanks to Hudl I don’t have to,” Biolo added. “That was one of the things I didn’t like about being an assistant coach. My first three years I didn’t see a varsity game because I was scouting every Friday night.”