One of the Rancho Mirage football team’s biggest on-field advantages first came into motion nearly two years ago to the day long after the Rattlers had been eliminated from the postseason.
After the Rattlers had gone through their first varsity season finishing 1-9, coach LD Matthews sat in the bleachers watching Shadow Hills eventually fall to Nipomo 56-20 in the quarterfinals of the Northwest Division playoffs.
Matthews, a coach devoted to setting his team up for success, noticed the Titans utilizing a recently legalized video replay system on their sidelines – think a less-flashy version of the NFL’s sideline tablets where players and coaches can watch a TV monitor and see plays from the previous series and make in-game adjustments rather than waiting until halftime.
With a year of research and development, Matthews recently installed it at the start of this year, eager to see the advantages it could bring. Now, with the Rattlers, the only valley team still standing, preparing to play in Friday’s Division 12 semifinals game at home against St. Genevieve, it certainly seems to have worked.
“I just thought how awesome and important and beneficial it would be for our kids to be able to review film from the game immediately and answer questions of what was going on in the game within minutes,” said Matthews, who noted Palm Springs is the only other valley program he knows of that uses the technology. “To be able to answer questions right away of who wasn’t in their gap or missed their block or what defensive front they’re giving you, that’s a huge plus.”
Though there are several systems out there that make it feasible, the Rattlers use Hudl Sideline, a feature that’s part of the bigger Hudl online football video company where teams and players upload clips to make highlight reels to send off to prospective college options.
Rancho Mirage uses three cameras – an iPad set up in the press box and one behind each end zone – to give them views from every angle. Those cameras are hooked up to a private Hudl router that, with the use of an Apple iOS device connected to a 32-inch TV monitor on the sidelines, allows coaches to have film ready to review with the offense before the players even get off the field.
After the offense finishes up a series, successful or not, they will trot back to a bench toward the back of the sideline where a TV sits on a table. Coach Matthews will go over film, both the good and the bad, with his back to the defense as coach Mario Castillo leads the defense.
The replay system creates an interesting coaching dynamic unfamiliar to most sidelines. Matthews, the head coach, has missed a bulk of the defense’s plays live this season while coaching up the offense. It may appear to create a distinct divide between the two squads, but Matthews said the trust he’s instilled in his defensive coaches have only made the Rattlers stronger.
“As a head coach, you’re only as strong as your assistants, and I think this group is as strong as any I’ve coached with,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve missed some of our best plays of the season, but the next day when I watch all the film of our defense, it’s great to see how well they’re doing, even without me, and what our coaches are able to get done.”
Video has become an essential piece of how all coaches and teams prepare for games during the week, but the Rattlers’ system allows them to take it one step further. Rancho Mirage exchanges film with each opponent they face in the regular season, and CIF mandates that teams in the postseason do it on a strict time deadline.
But what do you do when your opponent works all week to install new offensive kinks or a strange defensive front they’ve never used and surprises you? With this system, the Rattlers don’t have to wait until halftime to make changes.
“At the end of the day, you don’t know what a team is going to do until they do it to you,” Matthews said. “This allows for you to instantly show a kid visually what they’re doing right or what they need to correct if there’s something we didn’t prepare for.
“Kids aren’t always going to be able to learn by you putting it on a dry erase board. They need to visually see themselves doing something right or something wrong.”
At this point in the season, Matthews and his players all said there’s rarely – if ever – going to be something a team debuts that the Rattlers are unfamiliar with, but this system allows them to help jog players’ memories of something, say, Twentynine Palms or San Jacinto did against them months ago.
The players are certainly familiar enough with film study. Starting during spring practice, Matthews films every single practice, with the help of three or four student assistants. Players give up their leisure time during lunch to go watch film with the rest of the offense or defense. The team’s large library of film is made available to them at home, too.
Tuesday at practice, Matthews was encouraging his players to use their extra time away from school to watch more film to get ready for Friday’s semifinal.
With all these tools at their disposal, Matthews said it helps, at minimum, level the playing field when other teams use similar systems, and it gives them a distinct advantage when teams don’t.
“If another team doesn’t have it, it’s a disservice to their program and team because they’re not getting the best advantage possible,” he said. “With this, even in our losses, our kids could see what they were doing wrong, and then it comes down to the kids being able to execute what they’re seeing.”