As another season of high school football comes to an end, coaches across the country are crediting a new digital imaging technology developed by a Pennsylvania company with increasing their coaching efficiency–and their teams’ win total–dramatically.

For high school football coaches, scouting the competition–or trying to analyze what went wrong or right in a game–once meant tedious hours rewinding and forwarding game tapes.

Now, the Landro Play Analyzer can cut that time in half–so viewing, say, every play your next opponent ran on all third-down conversion attempts from its past five games is just clicks away on a remote.

Coaches who’ve bought the system swear by it.

Craig Sponsky, head coach of Bishop Carroll High School in Ebensburg, Pa., which lost the Class A state championship Dec. 5, purchased the system in June and says it helped his team get to the championship game.

The team was looking for an edge, he said. “We’re able to see things we may not have been able to see prior to” having it.

“It is such a great teaching tool. It saves time for the student athletes. It sounds kind of silly, but when you’ve got space on a video [while fast-forwarding or rewinding plays] you can lose a kid’s attention immediately,” he said.

Larry Greene, head coach at Pennsylvania’s Central Bucks East High School, has been coaching for 25 years and didn’t think technology could have done much better than when film gave way to video.

“It does what we needed to do, and it just gives you tremendous access to plays,” he said.

Players can make highlight tapes of their best plays and games for college recruiters in minutes, he said. To have a tape made can cost about $250, he said, but his players use the machine to make tapes for free in a matter of minutes.

“Am I going to tell you, is it going to win games for you? Yeah, actually,” he said. “I think it’s the tool of the future.”

Chris Wise, football coach at Utah’s Bear River High School, credits the Landro with helping the team win the state championship this year.

“We went from 5-6 last year to 12-1 this year,” he said. “We’ve cut down our time scouting-wise. We’ve cut down film-watching time so we have more time for practice.”

The system involves a blue box about the size of a VCR or DVD player that connects to any television. Games can be recorded directly to it or transferred from a videotape by plugging in a VCR or digital camera.

The system can store about 20,000 plays–easily several seasons’ worth–and costs about $5,000.

A modified computer keyboard allows the user to index the beginning and end of a play and plug in an array of information, including down and distance; defense, offense, or special teams; and other details. It’s operated by a remote control that has only a few buttons to advance or review plays in real time or slow motion and a built-in laser pointer.

“We can’t get it out of coach’s hands,” David Shirey, Landro’s director of sports sales, said of the remote.

Jerry Salandro, president and chief executive officer of Iris Technologies, which developed the Landro, has been in the imaging and software business since the 1970s and developed technology for one-hour photo centers.

Applications for the Landro don’t stop at football, he said.

Salandro said he’s modifying it for basketball, but it could be adapted to wrestling, soccer, or any number of sports, even acting–anything where someone could benefit by seeing themselves perform. He also plans to adapt it to storing home movies or photographs.

“The hottest products are digital cameras,” he said. “We’re taking more and more pictures, but guess what happens to them all? They’re sitting in our computer.”

The Landro isn’t the only such system on the market.

Andy Fineberg, a sales representative for Webb Electronics in Carrollton, Texas, said his company offers several software editing programs tailored from the high school to professional level. Its clients include the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, and Division I and II colleges.

Salandro said such systems can still be reliant on editing videos and may offer more bells and whistles, pushing the cost to hundreds of thousand of dollars or more, whereas the Landro is tailored to what a high school coach needs and can easily use.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive lineman John Banaszak, who now coaches at Robert Morris University in Pittsburg, liked the Landro so much that he joined the company to promote it.

His time spent analyzing games dropped from 12 to six hours, he said: “It freed up all my time to devote to how I can get my football team prepared for my next opponent.”

Robert Morris ended the season 6-4, with three losses by a touchdown or less. “And we’re currently poring over the Landro to find out how we can get better and reverse those three games,” Banaszak said.

Salandro has sold about 300 play analyzers to high school and college football teams across the country. With 16,000 high school and about 400 small college programs nationwide, Banaszak sees plenty of room for growth.

Mike Eayrs, director of research and development for the Green Bay Packers and considered to be an innovator for incorporating technology in football, said he isn’t surprised that high school programs are looking for a technological edge.

“Football is played sequentially but it is best analyzed thematically … because what you find is there are certain recurrent themes that become dependent for strategy,” Eayrs said.

But whatever the technology, Eayrs said, “It can’t make a dumb person smart, but it helps a good person [work] more efficiently.”

Links:

Landro Play Analyzer
http://www.landro.com

Iris Technologies
http://www.iristech.com

Webb Electronics
http://www.webbelectronics.com

New helmet technology could help prevent concussions
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
December 09, 2003

With one of college football’s most storied rivalries as the backdrop, a new helmet unveiled Dec. 6 brought technology from the battlefield to the gridiron.

The helmets worn in the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia borrow the shock-absorbing technology used to protect Army paratroopers from head injuries.

The helmet is the latest in a new generation of equipment inspired by NFL- and NCAA-sponsored studies into concussions, the brain-rattling blows to the head that helped end the careers of quarterbacks Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys and Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers, among others.

The helmets were quietly tested this fall by players at Army, Navy, and more than 30 other college and high school teams across the country, but Schutt Sports used the Dec. 6 Army-Navy game to announce the new model publicly.

The company will begin selling the helmet in January, and its two main competitors have already introduced new models, the first major helmet changes in two decades.

David Halstead, technical adviser to the National Operating Committee for Standards on Athletic Equipment, compared the advances to continuing safety improvements in the auto industry.

“Thirty years ago a 30 mile-per-hour barrier collision was a death sentence. Now it’s a broken ankle and air bag burns,” he said. “We just have to figure out how to get rid of the broken ankle and air bag burns.”

Two studies published in November found that football players who suffer concussions are left prone to suffering additional concussions–especially if they return to action too soon–and become slower to recover from such blows.

Athletic equipment makers have been following the studies and creating new models that could soften the blow.

The financial stakes are big for helmet makers. They are competing in a market of about 2 million U.S. players, many of whom wear the same helmet for years.

Litchfield, Ill.-based Schutt has high hopes for its new DNA helmet, which replaces traditional foam cushioning with shock-absorbing pads also used in paratrooper helmets and on decks of military boats to soften the blow of riding at high speeds in rough water.

A few players with both Army and Navy have worn the new model in a season-long test.

The DNA’s SKYDEX pads absorb shock by using rows of twin hemispheres that are like to two halves of a ball being squeezed together, said Larry Maddux, Schutt’s research director. He said the pads absorb shock better than a much thicker layer of foam, leaving room for traditional padding to make the helmet comfortable.

Industry leader Riddell Sports, a Chicago company that gets most of the NFL’s business through an official licensing agreement, introduced its new Revolution helmet last summer. It has an expanded shell that adds thickness and expands the area of protection toward the jaw.

Cookeville, Tenn.-based Adams USA, the industry’s No. 3 seller, launched a lighter helmet, which the company says might reduce the risk of certain injuries because players will not be as inclined to drop their heads when they get tired.

Schutt President Julie Nimmons said the DNA helmet offers the best protection the company could develop, but added that no helmet is concussion-proof.

“If we could make a helmet to prevent concussions from happening, don’t you think we would? And shout it from the mountaintops? Absolutely,” Nimmons said.

Several University of Illinois players wore the new Riddell helmet this year, and one tested Schutt’s DNA. The new helmets got good reviews and none of the players suffered head injuries, said Trent Chestnut, the team’s equipment manager.

“I think they’re making strides, but it will take a few years to see how well they protect against concussions,” Chestnut said.

Links:

National Operating Committee for Standards on Athletic Equipment
http://www.nocsae.org

Schutt Sports
http://www.schuttsports.com