PARIS — Forget Eli and Peyton Manning. The Oxford Hills Vikings had this football on your phone thing figured out a while ago.

“I was at a Red Sox game on ‘Maine Day’ last year,” Vikings coach Mark Soehren said. “Three of my players happened to be sitting right behind me at the game, and they were on their phone between innings, watching the game we played that weekend.”

The Vikings were watching their preseason game on Hudl, a web-based video software and app service that is changing the way football teams, and most other sports, use video to improve themselves and prepare for opponents.

While there are other similar services online, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based hudl.com is used by all of the teams in Eastern Class A, and a growing number of other teams around the state.

Oxford Hills started using it shortly after Soehren was hired as coach in March of 2012. Before the Vikings subscribed to the service, using video, whether it was trading it with opponents, breaking it down for players or logging it for self-scouting, was an arduous, time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process.

“It was brutal,” said Soehren, who served as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator and head coach at Poland Regional High School before becoming Oxford Hills’ head coach.

Coaches have long used the technology available to scout opponents or their own teams. First it was 16 millimeter film, then VHS tape, then DVD. Regardless of the method, coaches usually had to exchange their film in person, which often meant taking long drives to meet in the middle somewhere the day after they played their last game.

“I always used to enjoy meeting with (Waterville coach) Frank Knight or meeting with (Lewiston coach) Bill County,” said Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin, who has been using Hudl the last two years, “but I figure I can talk to them before the game if I have to.”

Once they got back home, coaches would have to make copies of the recorded game they just received. Even with the latest technology, it could take several hours to burn DVDs for assistant coaches and players.

Coaches would spend hours on Sundays breaking down film together, then even more time on Mondays and Tuesdays pouring over film, writing on reams of paper to record opponents’ tendencies, draft scouting reports of opponents and evaluations of their own players and develop game and practice plans for the coming week.

“We’d schedule our defensive meetings for Wednesday because you really couldn’t break down film in time (to do it earlier in the week),” Soehren said.

“With Hudl, you push a button… maybe three, maybe three buttons… and it’s done,” he said. “Now we don’t have to have those (Sunday) meetings because everyone can do it on their computer or their phone.”

Coaches usually upload their game film to Hudl once they get home from their game. More often than not, the players can then look at the video within a few hours after it ends, and watch their next opponent before the end of the weekend.

“After the game, coach puts it up (on Hudl). I’ll watch the whole game that night,” junior slot/linebacker Davis Turner said. “Then coming in on Monday, we’ll have a group film during practice where he’ll call us up in (position) groups to go over what we did right and wrong.”

“Over the weekend, he’ll put up the next team we’re going to play,” senior center/defensive end Ethan Edwards said. “So over the weekend we can start to watch film already of, say, Edward Little this week. It’s very easy to use.”

With the old technology, the players would get their first look at the film on Monday. That meant not getting much done on the first day of practice, especially if the projector broke, the VCR ate the tape or some other mishap occurred.

“We’d get everyone into a big room with a little TV and you would crowd around it,” Soehren said. “You would have the remote with your camera and your rewind and you’d hit the wrong button and you’d hit stop. ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got to find the input button.’ And then you’d flip it back on and it wouldn’t work so you’d have to get a new cord.”

This past Monday, the Vikings practiced outside for an hour, then, while the rest of the team hit the weight room, the starting defense went into a room for about 15 minutes to watch a playlist of eight plays coaches had built. Then the offensive line watched another playlist with the same amount of plays.

“We just went off my computer. You don’t have to deal with cords. There’s no wrong button to hit. Just hit the one that goes back to the beginning again for each play,” Soehren said. “You can just create a playlist. I don’t even have to click on those. They just come up.”

Using any device, players can continue watching video from their home or during a break at school, and what they watch can be tracked by their coaches. Coaches can email playlists to individual players and/or position groups with their comments included. One option even allows coaches to use a telestrator like a TV commentator.

“I could make a comment and say ‘Whitehouse, will you step down when they block?’, something like that, and only you get that comment,” Parlin said. “We can check to see if the kids have been on there watching. It’s got a little CIA to it.”

“Even when we’re not watching film as a team,” Edwards said, “if you have any down time, you can just pull it up on your phone or laptop and the coach can break down the film and put notes on there, and you can circle a player and said ‘You should have been here. You should have been there.'”

Teams can store nearly two seasons worth of video on Hudl, giving players the opportunity to review the last time they played an opponent.

“This week, I actually watched a lot of film of last year’s game against Edward Little, too,” Turner said.

The software has customizable spreadsheets that allow coaches to break down the action in practically any manner imaginable — opponent formations, down-and-distance tendencies, scouting reports on individual players, even graphs and charts to illustrate whatever coaches want to highlight. Players can also use it to make their own highlight reels to send to colleges.

“It’s really amazing what you can do. You’re only limited by your creativity, really,” Soehren said.

Hudl caters to teams in most sports, but it isn’t free. For football, it offers packages to high schools and colleges that cost between $800 to $3,000 depending on the amount of storage and options desired. It also offers discounts for entire athletic departments and conferences that want all of their teams plugged in.

The Vikings pay for their account through fundraising. Parlin said Mt. Blue’s boosters paid for every team to join, with each team chipping in.

“How can you not afford to do this? It’s such a powerful tool,” Soehren said.”It’s been an amazing time-saving device that has made football better.”


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