Hudl a must-have for football teams

Aug. 21, 2014 @ 10:03 AM

Bryan Atchley got a peek into the future when he first saw what Hudl could do a couple years ago.

The Sevier County assistant coach was with the football team on the Smoky Bears’ annual trip to McCallie when some colleagues showed him the football video software. Producing film — and sharing it with players, opponents and recruiters — had long been one of those chores relegated to young staff members, but what Atchley saw on the iPad in front of him, a kind of YouTube for football, had the power to change that.

“I didn’t go to bed until almost 4 in the morning,” Atchley said. “I go online. This is crazy. We can do all this. We had practice the next day. I said, ‘We need to order this. I don’t know the cost. I don’t care. Whatever the cost is, we need to order this.’”

Today, three years after Atchley first heard the name of the Lincoln, Neb. company, almost every team Sevier County plays purchases the software. Nationwide, around 15,000 high schools and small colleges use Hudl for at least one of the 20 sports the company offers. That figure has tripled since 2011 when Hudl serviced about 5,000 schools before acquiring two of its competitors, said company spokesman Brandon Gries.

The software has become so ubiquitous that on an average Friday night, Twitter and other social media platforms are flooded with high school football players promoting their Hudl highlight films. Film that kids used to not see until Sundays — and then only at school or on clunky video tapes and DVDs — is now shareable an hour after a game. Film exchange, which once meant hours on the road Saturday morning, is done with one click from a coach’s living room. Ditto for getting a high school athlete in front of college coaches, a task that just a couple years ago took hours of work and a box full of DVDs.

“By the time I get home there’s kids who’ve already marked highlights,” said Pigeon Forge video guru Lee White. “By the time I get on there, they’ve already been on there watching highlights. You just get to watch so much more film than you ever did before. … It’s amazing what all you can do. We can call them and say, ‘Hey, watch these clips.’ We’ll film practice and put it on there every day. We film practice and they get to watch themselves. Even if it’s only two or three minutes, they’ll get to see, ‘Hey, this is what I did during practice. I need to get better at these certain things.’ ”

Impact on teaching and recruiting

The software is leading to massive changes, both as a teaching tool and in the college recruiting world. Sevier County quarterback and college prospect Deuce Wallace has seen both sides of that, with views on his Hudl page far outpacing views of his highlight films on YouTube.

Wallace has also been brought up to speed quickly since transferring from Riverside Academy near New Orleans. The virtual playbook and film available on the Bears’ Hudl account has taught him the offense better, he says, than even reps in practice.

“It’s a big difference,” Wallace said. “You learn so much more on film than you can actually do out here learning it live. I know it doesn’t really make sense but you can see the overlay of what the defense is doing. You know where the defense is going to be. It’s hard to learn that actually going through live reps.”

While Wallace gets closer to picking a school, Hudl’s power is revolutionizing recruiting. It’s far easier for coaches to open their email and find Hudl highlight films than go scout a player or request film from coaches. Midwest Analyst Josh Helmholdt said that’s one reason early offers and commitments from college prospects are becoming more common, like former Sevier County running back Dorian Banks committing to Tennessee as a sophomore.

“I think what you see now, with the process speeding up as much as it has, as players getting offered as freshmen, that’s in part due to Hudl,” Helmholdt said. “You have game film on demand of these players. ... That’s why you see so many early offers. It’s changed the recruiting game.”

Video accessible anywhere

All the film is stored on Hudl’s servers in the cloud, so the film is accessible anywhere in the world. Coaches can tag plays and categorize them to give players at each position a virtual reel of film tailored to them. New add-ons allow them to draw plays over the video. Players are each given an account when a school purchases the program, so coaches can track how much film each person watches. Players can edit and compile their own highlight tapes, which is what you see filling up timelines on Friday nights.

“Sometimes I’ll text my teammates and be like, ‘Check this play out,’ or ‘Look at this play,’” said Gatlinburg-Pittman senior Michael Muszik. 

It all comes at a price coaches say is well worth it. Hudl charges teams $800 a year for the service, although that doesn’t include some add-on features. Schools can add a second and third sport for $400 each. Once an athletic program reaches three paid sports, any team at that school can use the service. 

Colleges can use it for their own video management and also buy recruiting packages that give them access to high school video stored on Hudl’s servers. The video is sorted by regions that cost about $3,000 each, or a national package is available for $35,000.  

“It seems like a high number, but at a lot of major universities it’s not very much and well worth it,” said Hudl’s Gries. “It saves them a ton of traveling time and effort.”

That includes the University of Tennessee which uses Hudl for both recruiting and managing its in-house video library. Sports Technology Coordinator Joe Harrington said the team has everything from games to meetings to practices to clips from the NFL Network available to any team member with a smart phone on demand. 

Harrington has watched the evolution of film at the Divison I level, starting out as a student assistant in the early ’90s. He remembers the Peyton Manning era when the legendary quarterback would return stacks of VHS tapes.

Today when the Volunteers are on the road, iPads with game film can be loaded by the time players are in their seats on the plane back to Knoxville. Film exchange has become as easy for Harrington as it is for high school coaches. Before Hudl, he had to ship film on Delta flights to the next week’s opponents, dropping the package at McGhee-Tyson Airport. One late-night drop shortly after 9/11 earned him some attention from airport security.

“They were pretty irate that night to see me,” Harrington said. “But now we have the Internet and with the file transfer, I can send a game in something like eight minutes. I could never have imagined that back in those days.”

Visualizing concepts

The technology has not just helped quarterbacks like Wallace.  Atchley said teenagers today have become incredibly visual in a world saturated with multimedia. High school athletes want to be able to visualize the concepts coaches are trying to explain. With Hudl, they can pull up on their phone in a moment and see — that’s the key — exactly what they need to be doing.

“I love it,” said Seymour receiver Blaise Rooney. “You know, you hear about these big players. You go look them up, compare yourself to them. It makes you want to be better. Sometimes it makes you want to be like them. When you’re playing somebody, you can see how good they actually are, you can look at their highlights. You can see how fast they are. It helps, man. it helps a lot. 

“If I’m not doing anything in class, I’ll look it up (on my phone). I like watching (Tennessee freshman) Todd Kelly. He’s a big inspiration to me.”

That technology continues to revolutionize the sport. Much the same way MaxPreps created national databases of high school statistics and sites like Rivals, and 24/7 Sports have brought recruiting into the national consciousness, Hudl views its future with the mainstream fan.

“Probably within the next four years we’ll be able to have names start popping up in college football,” Gries said. “All those kids will have Hudl profiles because they were on Hudl in high school. By 2016, the Heisman Trophy winner will probably be able to go back and see his highlights. … We expect our brand is going to grow from a  coaching tool to an actual sports brand, visible not only by coaches and players but visible to fans and families.”