A cardboard box filled with cleats sits in one corner. It's next to a box brimming with chin straps, which is next to another overflowing with videotapes. It seems like typical high school football coach clutter in Kenny Lucas's office at Gonzaga. But look again.
On a stand across the room there is a blue electronics component connected to a keyboard and monitor. A few feet away, there's a sleek new personal computer and a handheld personal data assistant, or PDA. All of the devices are loaded with football-specific software.
High-tech gear is "not going to win games for you," Lucas said, pointing at the blue device, a Landro play analyzer. "But it gives you a clue. It helps us catch onto the other teams' tendencies, and helps us catch our own."
From digital play analyzers in the coach's office and digital video cameras on the sidelines to PCs in the weight room and Sony PlayStation 2s in the locker room, technology is changing the way high school coaches and players prepare for games. Many said it's not only focusing their preparation, it's also helping raise the level of play.
New equipment is replacing the VHS recorder, making handwritten playbooks and scouting reports obsolete. In some parts of Fairfax County, in fact, high-tech gear may soon eliminate a tradition that has been part of the high school game for years: the Saturday morning tape exchange. Coaches in the AAA Concorde District instead might swap game video via a secure Web site this season.
Similar, yet vastly more complicated and expensive equipment has been used in professional and college football for more than a decade. But falling prices and increased competition at the high school level have prompted coaches to go high tech in recent years. Although football-specific computer programs have been used at Episcopal and Georgetown Prep, among others, for years, area coaches said it's now an area-wide trend.
More than 50 schools in the Washington area -- and more than 400 nationwide -- have purchased the Landro play analyzer. At $5,000 -- a large sum even for athletic departments with large budgets -- it remains out of reach for some schools. But after a short demonstration by Lucas, it's easy to see why athletic departments from Bishop McNamara to Centreville have been so eager to acquire it.
Lucas punched a few keys and brought up replays of every third down Gonzaga's defense faced against DeMatha the previous year. A few more clicks and Gonzaga running back Joe Taylor's carries -- all of them from the previous season -- appear on the screen. And Lucas can sort them by the hole he ran through, the defensive formation, the length of run and more.
"I don't want anyone else to get the darn thing," Madison Coach Gordon Lieb said of the Landro, which his school purchased last year.
At DeMatha, running back Jordan Scott used Landro to make his own highlight video for college recruiters. It took him a half hour, a fraction of the time it would have taken him using a VCR.
Dunbar is among 100 high schools nationally that received, for free, Proscout Video's Indexing and Training Software through a program sponsored by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The software, which is loaded onto a PC, helps coaches analyze and break down film from opposing teams as well as create highlight tapes for their own players, much like the Landro. Dunbar Coach Craig Jefferies said he plans to use the system to self-scout his own team by looking for his play-calling tendencies.
"We're still trying to figure out all the things that it can do," Jefferies said. "But we're first going to start off charting our tendencies -- where we have some success doing what. It does a lot."
The high-tech revolution doesn't stop in the coach's office.
As players enter the weight room at Madison, they sit down at a PC and log into a program called "Bigger Faster Stronger," which tracks and customizes their weight training based on previous workouts, time of year and other data about the player.
"It's motivation for the kids because they can see their progress," said Madison Athletic Director Pete Bendorf, who used the same program at Oakton, where he was the head football coach. "To older, more veteran coaches, technology is a bad word. But the truth is it makes everything more efficient. If you spend 20 minutes showing the defense video on Landro, instead of an hour on a VCR, you can get out onto the practice field sooner."
Georgetown Prep Coach Dan Paro is one of the area's most successful coaches -- and one of the most tech-savvy. He has scouted opponents on his PDA for almost seven years, digitally animated plays on his laptop for nearly as long, used a professional-quality digital camera for three years and this summer purchased Landro.
Paro's favorite program is Digital Scout, which he runs on his PDA. He watches an opponent's game on video, pausing between plays so he can input formations and other information about individual plays into the PDA. After logging all the offensive plays -- he said it takes him 20 to 30 minutes to input about 40 -- he downloads the info onto his PC. The Digital Scout program prints a detailed report that shows what plays his opponent prefers to run on which down, what plays he might expect when the opposing offense lines up in a specific formation and other tendencies.
Even with that, this fall Paro plans to introduce a new wrinkle: He's going to project game video onto a greaseboard, where he will stand before his players with a remote that doubles as a laser pointer. He can freeze frames, then uses a grease marker to diagram what should have happened.
"As a high school coach, all those things save time for people who don't have much time," said Paro, who is also the athletic director at the Rockville private school. "It's made life easier for me. Your players still have to go out and block and make tackles. But technology provides a quicker and more efficient way of preparing your staff."
But not all schools have a tony private institution's budget. Theodore Roosevelt in the District is one of them. But that doesn't mean the Rough Riders aren't dabbling in technology, thanks to a little ingenuity by Coach Daryl Tilghman.
Two years ago, he bought a PlayStation 2 and EA Sports' Madden football video game for the lounge where his players hang out. One day, Tilghman decided to fiddle with one of the games and discovered that it had a practice mode that allowed the user to design his own plays. He then got his players to load it with Roosevelt's offensive schemes, which he continues to update when he makes changes. Now, he uses the PlayStation as a training tool, bringing in quarterbacks to work on distinguishing opposing defenses.
"We've been having a lot of fun," Tilghman said. "Nowadays, a lot of these kids aren't football savvy. The stick figures on the chalkboard don't move. You have to try to figure out what piques their interest and try to do things they're interested in."
Senior quarterback Jamal Gilmore is a fixture in front of the television with the game controllers, constantly running passing plays through the system. He said it has helped improve his ability to see the entire field and react more quickly when faced with blitzes or other defenses. He has even installed the Rough Riders' offense on his PlayStation 2 at home.
DeMatha's Scott and teammate Anthony Wiseman said they've been using video games as a learning tool for years, and that many of their friends on other teams do, too.
"Putting plays into Madden helps you remember the plays," Scott said. "It helps you prepare for the other team, too, because you can see how it plays out with artificial intelligence. Everyone does it now."
Staff writer Judith Evans contributed to this report.