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Technology pushes its way into high school football

North Gwinnett quarterback coach Eric Young looks over some offensive alignments on an iPad with head coach Bob Sphire, left, as offensive line coach Duvall Braxton, right, looks on during the home game against Mill Creek earlier this season. The GHSA passed a rule this year allowing communication devices on the sidelines. Below, Mountain View coach Brandon Gill records the action on his iPad from the coaches’ box during a game (Photos: Karl L. Moore)

North Gwinnett quarterback coach Eric Young looks over some offensive alignments on an iPad with head coach Bob Sphire, left, as offensive line coach Duvall Braxton, right, looks on during the home game against Mill Creek earlier this season. The GHSA passed a rule this year allowing communication devices on the sidelines. Below, Mountain View coach Brandon Gill records the action on his iPad from the coaches’ box during a game (Photos: Karl L. Moore)

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Archer assistant coach Adam Britt holds an iPad during their game earlier this year against Dacula. The GHSA passed a rule this year allowing communication devices on the sidelines. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Mountain View coach Brandon Gill records the action on his iPad from the coaches’ box during a game earlier this season. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

At the beginning of the season, North Gwinnett had a player run down from the top of the press box with an iPad in hand.

He would get to the field, give it a coach and take a second iPad up to the press box. It was an exhausting task to go back and forth time and time again.

“We had to go through some trial and error the first couple of games,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said.

North players and coaches weren’t checking their Facebook pages during the game or watching old episodes of “Modern Family.” The iPad, and technology in general, has become the new tool in Georgia high school football. Technology has long been used for filming games, but now it’s being used during games on the sidelines. The Georgia High School Association passed a rule this summer allowing communication devices to be used during games.

“It’s a major move in the right direction,” Sphire said. “The NFL has been sending down pictures of plays for years.”

The rule, which was adopted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, reads “The committee has expanded use of communication devices to allow, coaches, players and nonplayers to use any form of available communication technology during authorized conferences outside the 9-yard marks, on the sidelines and during the halftime intermission period. Use of communication devices by players except during conferences outside the 9-yard marks continues to be prohibited.”

That means things like smart phones, iPads, TVs and printers can now be used during games to help players and coaches make adjustments. Many of those things have long been used by the pros.

“The traditional hesitation had been that many schools could not afford the devices and there would be a competitive disadvantage,” GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin told Georgia High School Football Daily in August. “As the communication devices became smaller and less costly, more and more schools had access, and it was nearly impossible for game officials to enforce the rule since violations tended to occur in press boxes, locker rooms or on the sidelines.”

While the rule was passed this summer, not every team takes full advantage of it.

“It hasn’t been a big ordeal for us. We’ve used it very little,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “We’re just doing what we’ve been doing in the past. As we learn more about it and get the equipment we need, we’ll use it more in the future.”

North Gwinnett was able to take advantage of the rule early in the season thanks to a community coach with a technology background. However, the initial learning process wasn’t easy. As they had someone going up and down from the press box and field, they weren’t able to capture everything they wanted.

“We were missing plays and missing data,” Sphire said. “Now they are in sync.”

Now North keeps one iPad in the press box, will take a picture of the formation, then wirelessly send it to an iPad on the field.

That little bit of information can help tremendously during a game.

“It’s been a huge benefit,” Sphire said. “You can show the linemen what kind of technique they have over them or a quarterback the coverage he’s throwing against.”

Coaches are able to use the information to help players make adjustments between series. It’s a scenario that’s been played out all of the time on NFL sidelines with guys like Peyton Manning looking over several different formations. Manning is a football guru. It’s a little bit different for teenage kids to get all that info in the heat of a game.

“It’s a cool deal like what the pros use. But at the same time they have TV timeouts and have time to look at things,” Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford said. “It’s a lot for a kid to have two minutes to decipher what a picture says. A lot of them play both ways, so to go back on the field and do that is a lot for a 16-, 17-year-old to decipher.”

Another part of the new rule allows teams to watch video during halftime of a game. However, most coaches agree that’s a little too much and too time consuming for halftime.

“You could maybe say I want to show play No. 5, 8, 13 and 20. But you need a coach to get all that set up by halftime,” Maloof said.

The communication rule was passed just a few months before the high school football season began. Most teams relied on the technology they already had available and any coach that was savvy enough to run it.

“From now on, anyone I interview that’s not tech savvy, that’s a mark in the wrong column,” Sphire said. “You have be tech savvy now days.”

While the new communication rule is not being taken advantage of heavily this year, most coaches are planning to implement it more next season. They see it as a valuable tool in a game that can be decided by one or two crucial plays.

“I could see in the offseason us talking about how we can use it more,” Wofford said. “Anything that can help you is a plus. Any type of edge you can get is an advantage.”