Teaching the technology generations that grew up learning on computers can be a challenge — whether it’s English, history or football.
A few years ago A.J. Smith, then offensive coordinator of a small college in Louisiana, was struggling to teach a receiver to read a defense while running his pass routes. Frustrated, Smith pulled out an old video game from the late 1980s — something called Tecmo Bowl. He inserted his receiver’s No. 47 jersey on a receiver in the video and directed the receiver on what route to run against a two-deep and a three-deep secondary.
“Is that me running that route?” the receiver asked. “Coach, I get it. I understand what I’m supposed to do now.”
Smith said he couldn’t teach the young receiver by telling him or showing him on a chalkboard or doing it on the field. It literally took a video game for the receiver to learn what to do.
That exchange between coach and player planted the seeds for what today is a Texas-based company called VAR Football.
“We’re utilizing today’s technology to teach and train football players the way young people learn today. It’s a tool to teach them in their language,” said John Paul Young Jr., chief operating officer of VAR Football.
Smith, currently wide receivers coach for the XFL Houston Roughnecks and chief executive officer of VAR Football, discovered the idea and put together the video capabilities. Young, who previously worked for the helmet manufacturer VICIS and is a son of former NFL assistant coach John Paul Young, provided the coaching contacts and business acumen for the partnership of longtime friends. VAR Football began as a vehicle to train quarterbacks in today’s pass-oriented offenses.
“Quarterback is the most difficult position to play in all of sports, and 95 percent of football is mental,” Young Jr. said. “They’ve got pre-snap reads. They have to set the blocking, check for blitzes, make any play audibles, read the defense and make an accurate throw. With the extra reps we offer, all those decisions can become second nature instead of the quarterback having to think and react.”
A couple of similar companies are catering mainly to pro and college teams. Young priced VAR Football to be feasible for high schools. After launching last season, VAR has about 50 clients — some colleges but more high schools in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.
“With the traditional press-box and over-the-top camera angles, you never see the game from the quarterback’s eyes. What we needed was a way to see from his eyes and his level,” said 36-year-old Nick Codutti, offensive coordinator at Class 5A Tomball, located 30 miles north of Houston.
The VAR system starts by videoing practice from the quarterback’s perspective with 360-degree capability. After practice in the film room or coaches’ office, the quarterback puts on the VAR goggles and sees the practice from his viewpoint. By turning his head while wearing the goggles, the quarterback can see from sideline to sideline. He can see the correct decisions he made. He also can see where the ball should have gone when he made wrong decisions.
By wearing the goggles that include earphones, distractions are eliminated. Quarterbacks are forced to focus. This singular focus allows young quarterbacks more reps. Even with UIL rules limiting football players to eight hours of on-field practice per week outside the normal school day, quarterbacks can get dozens of extra daily reps with VAR.
“Reps are the mother of all learning,” said Billy Noonan, 30-year-old head coach at Houston St. Pius X. “We don’t have turf. If it rains and our field is muddy, we can still get reps with VAR.”