Players film to improve game, technique

Every Thursday and Friday during football season, 28 players file into room D102 at the start of second period—not to hit the weight room like they do on the first three days of the school week—but to hit the books. To study film.

“Don’t think for one second that you’re going to walk in there, and it’s going to be a cakewalk,” coach Kyle Williams stressed at the end of a Thursday film meeting the day prior to the big Mt. Carmel game. “If we play our best and execute, we win the game.”

Williams’ request was simple: play hard, follow through with the coaches’ plan, and bring home a trophy for the second year in a row.

But the work it takes to fulfill Williams’ request isn’t as simple. The days leading up to Fridays consist of the coaches and players dissecting and analyzing nearly every aspect of their opponents’ and their own games, which can turn a 13-second clip into a seven-minute conversation.

To just bring film to the classroom requires a whole team of volunteers.

Once quarterback Beau Nelson’s (12) freshman season started, the team looked towards Nelson’s dad, Kent, to film games. Immediately, Mr. Nelson thought of new ways to capture quality footage.

“I had this idea from watching NFL football and I thought, how could we get instant-replay from our camera down to the guys on the field?” Mr. Nelson recalled.

All of Mr. Nelson’s visions for the football program did not start panning out until Nelson moved up to varsity his sophomore year.

After adamantly pushing for players to have access to recently-recorded footage from the field, Mr. Nelson now has a TV set standing along the Wolverine’s sideline at both home and away games. He records film using Hudl Sideline, a wireless intranet system. This means that Hudl and its apps function on a private Wi-Fi network. Mr. Nelson’s recording devices all connect to other devices without using the school’s Wi-Fi network.

Mr. Nelson and his volunteers capture the field from three angles—from both end zones and the sideline. At each end zone, a camera is mounted on a 25-foot round pole that pivots and extends from the ground. A monitor is also attached to each end zone camera’s apparatus. End zone cameras capture footage of the back field, and movement that is not as noticeable from the sideline. A Sony HD camera is used for the sideline.

As the main controller, Mr. Nelson uses his phone to manage all three cameras. With Hudl Sideline, he records the game in clips. By pressing the “start recording” button, all cameras are activated, allowing the team to watch the game from all angles simultaneously. After Mr. Nelson presses “stop recording,” he goes through the same motions he previously made to film another clip.

The footage is then immediately sent to the TV, and five other devices of Mr. Nelson’s choice. This includes iPads—one for the announcers in the box and one or two for coaches on the field. All the devices Mr. Nelson adds to his account have access to all game footage at any time. One iPad can access film from last year’s game against Mt. Carmel, Ramona, or Poway, and the list goes on to all the teams in the Palomar League. Players also can access film through Mr. Nelson’s account. Whether players are reviewing film at school with coaches or at home on their own time, they can watch clips in slow motion as well.

Back when Mr. Nelson and Williams played football, teams traded physical copies of film, which were then displayed on a projector.

“The other thing was we would only trade two games at a time,” Williams said. “You could only watch two of your opponents’ film. Now, we have access to all of them. Now players can access film too. They can study and watch film on their own.”

After a game, Mr. Nelson transfers the team’s film into the Palomar League “pool” on Hudl Sideline. Teams within the pool must submit their game each week by Thursday, 11:59 p.m.  This requirement ensures that teams submit their film earlier in the week. This online pool also simulates the film exchange that coaches once did years ago. On the app, a team will not be granted access to other teams’ film until they put their film in the pool.

“It’s a simultaneous transaction,” Mr. Nelson said.

On a typical Friday night, Mr. Nelson captures roughly 120 clips. While the team holds film meetings on two weekdays, coaches also hold one on Saturday morning, just after the game. Although players start arriving at 8 a.m., oftentimes, the coaching staff comes an hour or two earlier to sift through the 100 or more clips Mr. Nelson recorded the night before.

“Clips we pick are going to be something we want to correct,” offensive coordinator Doug Brady said. “I try to watch at least the touchdowns or any breakdowns on pass protection, or if we dropped the ball, ran the wrong routes, or we went the wrong way in the blocking scheme.”

Because the coaching staff has a finite amount of time with its players, Brady said he and fellow coaches need to cut to the chase. Emphasizing the mistakes stresses the importance of accountability to the team, and it brings to light that a player’s role in a drive can change quickly, even between two frames in a clip.

“We start watching film and then you correct based on the parameters for a particular play and what your assignment is on a particular play,” Brady said. “The goal is to use the technology, see yourself, take ownership of that, and know that you are part of a group and you’re vested in it.”

Whether the team wins or loses on Friday night, Saturday mornings can be psychologically brutal. However, players understand Brady’s goals, and know that they need to be fully invested in film meetings and be active learners.

“Watching film is about putting everybody on the same page,” Beau Nelson said. “When we see what we are doing wrong, we can fix things. There are a lot less mistakes made later.”

Structurally, Saturday film meetings differ greatly from Thursday and Friday meetings. While about half of the team is in class on the weekdays, almost the whole team is at school on Saturday morning. Unlike weekday meetings, Saturday meetings also allow the team to branch off into three classrooms, two for the offense line and one for the defensive line. The offensive generally splits into smaller groups—linemen, running backs, receivers, and quarterbacks—where players of similar positions can confer with one another during the meeting.

Forty-five minutes of Saturday meetings are also devoted to preparing for the next game, and taking a look at the next opponent’s film. Under the coaches’ directions, the team watches the film by sets, or by their opponents’ offensive formations or the ways their opponents’ defense is aligned.

“If Del Norte lined up in a set we’re using, we try to watch that clip and group them,” Brady said. “Whether it’s 25 or 30 clips in a set, we extract data from that.”

With Hudl Sideline, coaches can input 14 different pieces of data including down, yard line, play type, offensive formation, and type of blitz. This data allows coaches to pull reports from clips. Coaches and players discover a team’s tendencies and weaknesses and make adjustments in response.

The day before the rivalry game, Williams showed players a clip that highlighted Mt. Carmel’s defensive habit of bringing jets, or external pressure, late.

“If we are starting to get late jets where we can’t see where they’re coming from, the obvious adjustment is to do what?” Williams asked.

“Full slide,” offensive tackle Jack O’Brien (11) replied.

By learning about a team’s tactics, players can reach that threshold of anticipation by Friday night.

“The game moves slower when you know what is going to happen,” Nelson said. “When you are not ready, it’s a lot like being lost. Everything is moving so fast. When you know where to go it’s simpler. In a complex game, you want things to be simple. If you watch film and you know what to do, you make things very simple.”

The reports also help coaches like Brady compile sets for film meetings, and select clips that address the issues and the coaches’ observations players need to see. More importantly, reports help coaches formulate their game plans. Brady has a call sheet for all first and second down, or the normal down, plays which are usually devised ahead of time. However, analyzing film allows Brady to primarily build his list of situational downs, which can change from game to game depending on the opponent.

“Situational football is a big word,” Brady said. “That is the game—understanding situations and finding matchups.”

In the game against Vista, Brady ensured that his offense focused on one player, who the team called the “fish.”

“The guy we want to attack, we call him the fish,” Brady explained. “We call the guy that can make the play the shark. We set our whole [offensive] plan around [Vista’s] big boy. He had destroyed other people’s game plans. We neutralized him because our kids knew where he was at every single snap. We needed to identify where he was every single snap, and we needed to make sure he doesn’t win the game.”

The fish didn’t win; rather the Wolverines won, 17-7.

Brady is not the only one in the football program who keeps an eye out for fishes and sharks. While Brady kept his offense on high-alert for Vista’s fish, players oftentimes observe and take note of their opponents’ skill by watching film outside of the team meetings.

On weekdays, wide receiver Connor Simpson (12) usually watches an hour of film outside of practice, focusing on his matchup for Friday night. On weekends, he watches the whole Friday night game to compile his own stats. When he watches film, he oftentimes identifies the fishes and sharks on his own.

“For my position, I watch the corners and who plays corner—the certain guys and their techniques,” Simpson said. “It helps for games, so I know how I can beat them.”

Pointing out strong and weak players when watching film has proven to help the team on gameday. The long hours of sitting at a desk instead of running on the field pay off. After a series resulted in a turnover from Vista to Westview, and with six minutes left in the first half, Simpson, Nelson and Brady knew they could take a risk.

“We knew where their fish was,” Brady said. “I told Simpson and Nelson that we had to take advantage of their fish. We knew they were going to set up to our formation; not the field. We took advantage of the knowledge we had about them. It was impromptu, but it was a play that we ran during the week. We just tweaked it a bit.”

With the knowledge the offense picked up from the film, the team was able to make a consequential play. After the timeout, Nelson threw a 50-yard blimp to Simpson on the left side of the field, and Simpson scored the first touchdown of the game.

Studying film initiates constant communication between players and coaches. Nelson worked with Brady a lot more after a tough season junior year. Compared to his sophomore season, Nelson threw about 600 fewer yards and half the number of touchdowns his junior year. Disappointed with his overall-season performance, Nelson knew he needed to make changes and revive old habits.

“I always said that my sophomore year was one of my biggest years,” Nelson said. “At the beginning of junior year, up until the bye week, there wasn’t any of that individual preparation like I did my sophomore year. That bye week, I prepared like I did my sophomore year.”

For Nelson, it became apparent that reviewing film at a more extensive level works for him. That bye week, he started using whiteboards to draw out plays while watching film.

“That was when we started flipping things around,” Nelson said. “We started scoring points, and we went on a run, and so I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do the whole off-season.’”

Nelson still studies throughout the season, and now has three white boards hanging in his room. And it has given him an advantage. The night before the Homecoming game against Poway, Nelson stayed up late watching film and drawing on his boards.

“The next morning, I had to get something that Beau forgot to bring to school in his room,” Mr. Nelson recollected. “I noticed he had a play drawn up on his board, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

That night, Nelson threw a 68-yard touchdown—from the 30-yard to the 3-yard line—to Elijah Johnson (10) during overtime.

“It clicked in my head that that was the play Beau had on his whiteboard,” Mr. Nelson said.

By looking at themselves on the screen from an objective perspective, players can make big strides throughout their high school careers. For every two-hour game of pure adrenaline on the field, comes nearly six hours of studying with the team and building the game plan in the classroom. All the big plays or games where the team holds a strong defense originate from rigorous coaching from the classroom’s desks.

“When it comes to the schematics and the strategy of the game, that is the fun part—when it comes together and you score a touchdown, you get an interception, you stop their plays, or get a long kick return,” Brady said. “That all goes to our tactics, schematics and execution.”

Oftentimes, aside from the mechanics, reviewing film simply reminds players of how much they’ve grown. For most players, they have grown a great deal since their lowerclassman years.

“From my sophomore year to now, I can see how much I’ve changed and see that wow, I really was not good then,” Simpson said.

“Man, I just didn’t know I was that slow,” Nelson added.