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Steamlined scouting: Digital services lead to more efficient, detailed game plans

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Hanson head coach Jim Haskamp surveys the field during a game against Corsica-Stickney on Sept. 13 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

When asked about his early days as a coach, longtime Bon Homme coach Byron Pudwill remarked, “These young coaches today don’t know how good they have it.”

Veterans of the prep football coaching world can reminisce about traveling to meet their opponent for the following week on Saturday morning to exchange VHS or DVD copies of the previous night’s game, only to return home to find a low-quality replay or even a blank tape.

With the advent of digital scouting services such as the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Hudl in 2006 -- along with the recently purchased Krossover -- and WatchGameFilm.com, a simple upload to the site leads to an in-depth breakdown is at the fingertips of players and coaches within 30 minutes of the final whistle.

“When it got to playoffs, there were times when we’d have somebody driving two hours away to get a tape,” Hanson head coach Jim Haskamp said. “Before this video exchange, you were logging quite a few miles. When it comes to kids being able to view tapes, if I had two or three tapes on a team, I’d be dubbing those off onto different tapes.”

At one time, coaches did not have time to celebrate a win or sulk over a loss, as they rushed to make VHS and later DVD copies of that night’s game for opponents, players and assistant coaches.

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While prices for sites such as Hudl range from $900 to $3,300 depending on the package, not only is the game immediately uploaded and ready to share, but additional options can be purchased to elaborately breakdown games, create reports and keep statistics.

“When my coaches go to watch film, they just watch their side of the ball,” Howard head coach Pat Ruml said. “... My special teams guy can have his stuff scouted in an hour. For my defensive coordinator, he can hit a button and the opposing team’s offense shows up and he doesn’t have to go through it himself.”

The time saved and convenience of online scouting may significantly outweigh most detractors, including price, but the old-fashioned way also had its benefits.

When Pudwill was a young assistant in the early 1980s, then-Bon Homme coach Russ Morrell dispatched him to opponent’s games on Fridays, armed only with a notepad and pencil. He often had to ward off dirty looks and questions about his presence, but it also forced him to learn fast.

With no video at his disposal, the scouting report for the following week hinged upon Pudwill’s notes and observations. When he did have video, if he made copies for 35 players, he watched the tape 35 times.

“You learned what to look for in a hurry,” Pudwill said. “... It’s surprising how people play their defensive ends. Everybody always had studs at linebacker and their fast guys in the back. Everything you do in nine-man -- whether it’s a counter trey, a trap, a power, an option -- is based on how they play their defensive ends.”

Despite some of the shenanigans involved with tape trading such as omitting key plays or bans on out-of-conference trades, meetings allowed opposing coaches to become friends.

Some coaches asked to leave a tape with a local gas station attendant or at a fast food restaurant, but other met face-to-face for the opportunity to speak.

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“We would talk and I miss that part of it,” Avon head coach Tom Culver said. “Hudl saves a lot of time and you can do a lot of stuff with it, but you lose that connection you make with other coaches, especially your conference coaches. You talk about things going good, things going bad -- things you couldn’t talk about with anybody else.”

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