Lackey High School's defensive football players couldn't wait to line up against Great Mills's offense two weeks ago. They wanted to do in real life what they had seen only on television.
Their eagerness stemmed from a tip learned during a team video session. By breaking down a videotape, the Chargers coaches discovered a pattern in the opposing offense.
Chargers players observed that every time the Hornets lined up in a split backfield formation, they passed. That educated hunch allowed Lackey to plan ahead and assign Chargers middle linebacker Kevin Glascock to blitz.
"Every time they did it, we put in an automatic blitz," Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick said.
The result: three sacks, immense pressure on Great Mills's offense and a 49-14 victory.
Many football coaches in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference say watching and analyzing videotapes of their teams and opponents help players learn assignments and improve overall skills.
Video study helps in all facets of football, not just defense. When Lackey was preparing for Great Mills, the Chargers' coaches noticed Great Mills' tendency to stack linebackers outside, so they prepared running back Morgan Green to attack the middle of the defense. Lackey coaches also recognized their offensive line's size advantage and planned to exploit that weakness with the run.
Green, the first Lackey sophomore to gain more than 1,000 yards in a season, rushed for 203 yards on 22 carries, shedding defenders on dive plays up the middle. After scoring five touchdowns, he was taken out of the game at halftime, with Lackey comfortably ahead, 43-0.
"All the [Great Mills] linebackers were close up to the line. All somebody had to do was give me one good block and I was gone," Green said. "I saw that on the tape. . . . [The tapes] are real important because I don't want to go out there and mess up or do something dumb. They help me to be prepared."
Preparation and repetition are crucial for high school football players, from the traditional late summer sprints to redundant regular season stretching. Coaches struggle to impart the fundamentals of a complex sport, rehearsing formations and rehashing details that make all the difference.
Videotape study also helps coaches recognize offensive and defensive tendencies, which lead to advantages on Friday nights.
The practice of using videotapes is not new, but coaches said it has grown in popularity over the past 15 years. Most coaches in the SMAC began their careers scouting and videotaping games for head coaches at their respective schools. The tapes replaced film, which were difficult to use when compiling highlight reels for college coaches.
"Everybody benefits from the films," Chopticon assistant coach Dane Kramer said. "Everyone has a different perspective of what happens. But the films don't lie. They tell you exactly what you need to work on for the next week."
College and professional teams watch tapes every day and meet with several position coaches for tedious dissection of games. High school coaches often ask players to watch tapes once during the week, with the intent of examining one or two key plays an opponent might run. High school coaches, who have a brief time with players to begin with, are careful not to spend too much time sitting in chairs watching video instead of being out on the practice field.
Calvert Coach Brad Criss takes three days to review film with his players, using Monday to watch the most recent game and Tuesday and Wednesday to watch the upcoming opponent. Players, he said, watch about 45 minutes of tape each day, with the goal of highlighting weaknesses and slowly developing a game plan.
Criss, who has 18 coaches on his staff between varsity and junior varsity, sends four coaches to two different games each weekend. Like most coaches, he likes to have three different tapes of an opponent to gauge tendencies. Calvert has three donated cameras and uses about 30 8mm and 80 VHS tapes per season.
Coaches also prepare tapes to send to college scouts, another tedious process that comes with the job. They say personal highlight tapes are the most proactive way to interest colleges in players. Other tapes are inventoried and filed.
McDonough Coach Dave Bradshaw stretched his budget one year to purchase a projection television to show tapes. Bradshaw, who videotapes his team's preseason practices, said the price of the projector was worth it to help players, especially linemen who need to see themselves staying low while blocking.
Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli, in his 11th season, said his coaches collect running files on opposing players and teams. One week they may note a quarterback's reluctance to pass if rushed or a mismatch with a short cornerback and taller receiver.
Coaches break down the tapes, charting plays, downs and distances and compiling that information for players. Some coaches plug that information into computer programs to generate stat sheets for players.
"[Watching tapes] helps them visualize what's going to happen," Thomas Stone Coach Steve Lindsay said of his team. "That's real important to get that before the game. Not only that, but to see the play develop. It helps them see the big picture and what we're doing defensively."
Green, who joined Lackey's varsity team this season after playing on junior varsity, said he's slowly learning how to understand what he sees on tape. He said he looks for the best linebackers and tacklers, and the fastest players on defense. He said the tapes have improved his vision on the field and have taught him to recognize where gaps naturally develop.
Too much film study instead of actual practice can lead to confusion for teenagers, however.
"You want your kids to be the best prepared they can be . . . to give them as much information as possible," Zaccarelli said. "In the same breath, you don't want to overdo it. You have to be careful -- students still have their homework."
Leonardtown Coach Alan Raley doesn't review tapes with his team. He instead watches tapes with his coaching staff over the weekend and presents small amounts of information during the week, dedicating more time to on-field practice.
"It's more of a psychological thing," Raley said. "I know we're not blessed with a great deal of speed, a great deal of talent. I don't want my kids to get psyched out before they come out on the field Friday night.
"It's a valuable tool if you're a student of the game and you can understand it. I think that is part of the problem, too. Our kids aren't students of the game where they can recognize what play will be run out of what formation. . . . We're trying to teach them to be students before we waste time. We're going to learn the game, then become students of the game."