EAGLE – Taking the lead from one of the biggest names in college football, the Eagle High School football team is following in UCLA’s footsteps, integrating drones into its practices and games.
Kevin Plew, Eagle’s director of video operations, said this is the first of its kind in Treasure Valley high school sports, to his knowledge.
“We had a little money left in our video budget in the football program,” Plew said. “The football program gets no tax money and is privately funded by parents and fans and the community.”
The drone itself is remote controlled and GPS-enabled with four helicopter blades. Underneath is a GoPro.
Plew’s son Alex, a 2007 Eagle High graduate and former Mustang football standout, is the only person allowed to operate the drone for safety reasons.
“Alex has been practicing all summer,” Kevin said. “Safety is our number one priority.”
“We just came out to the field to practice when there was no one here, seeing how low we can get it before it hit the ground,” Alex said.
Part of the safety is embedded in the drone itself.
“This drone has GPS capabilities, so it actually connects with satellite, so when it flies to a certain height and I let go of the controls, it’ll actually hold itself there,” Alex said. “If it ever gets close [to a player], or it seems like it is going to fall down, I can make it fly upwards.”
Federal regulations prohibit drones from flying higher than 500 feet in any direction.
The drone runs on battery power, with a maximum of 25 minutes on each battery. Alex typically has one battery in the drone, and another charging nearby.
If the remote ever dies, the drone will fly 100 feet up, detect where the last GPS remote location was pinned, and fly right back down to the remote.
Once Alex was comfortable handling the drone, he began using it at practices so players and coaches could use it for analysis.
It took the players only a short time to get used to.
“For just about the first ten minutes [the players] were watching it, Kevin said. “These kids are pretty video savvy during practices. They figure out real quick to ignore the cameras.”
Senior wide receiver and corner Kam Lane said the team was a little freaked out about the hovering drone at first.
“I thought it was Rupert, the bird that lives on the baseball field, flying around,” Lane said. “You just kind of get used to it.”
When the team saw footage of practice from the vantage point of the drone, they were hooked on the device.
“The videos it makes are awesome,” Lane said. ” You kind of get used to seeing the same angle; 50 yard-line looking down, or straight down the goal line. I think you get a better feel for what you need to do, where you need to be [with the drone].”
Though the drone’s main use will be providing practice analysis, Kevin says it will make an occasional Friday night appearance.
“Game night, it’s for cool shots for our highlight DVD,” Kevin said. “We won’t use any footage over the field, and [the drone] won’t go to the other side of the field because we don’t want the other coaches to think we are spying.”
Eagle opens its season August 29 against Idaho Falls at Thunder Stadium.