File Photo: 2013 Batavia High School football player Connor McKeehan looks over game tape from their game against Glenbard North last year using the Hudl software.
File Photo: 2013 Batavia High School football player Connor McKeehan looks over game tape from their game against Glenbard North last year using the Hudl software. — Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com

As difficult as it might be for players today to envision, there was a time when high school football teams had to pile into sweaty rooms on off days to watch entire, unedited game films together; when coaches spent giant chunks of their weekends driving dozens if not hundreds of miles to exchange well-worn VHS cassette tapes of games with their upcoming opponents; when an on-the-field huddle was a more important way of communicating and planning than an on-the-web Hudl.

Perhaps even harder to believe, it wasn't that long ago.

"We would all sit in the fieldhouse and watch practice film in there — all on videotape, VHS, on the big, heavy, huge style big-screen TVs," said Derek Schneeman, a Streator High School graduate and quarterback who 11 years ago led the 2008 Bulldogs to what is still the only playoff win in program history.

Schneeman is now the head coach 25 miles southwest and six years later at Fieldcrest High School in Minonk. "Looking back, it's kind of hard to believe.

"Now it's so easy to upload video on Hudl. It takes literally seconds, and kids can watch video of games and practices minutes after they're finished on their computers, their tablets, their phones, anywhere. Back then we watched film as a team, but you weren't able to watch film on your own. Now players can watch film, edited down, anywhere they go.

"Back then — and I say back then, but it wasn't that long ago — sure wasn't like it is now."

Hudl, a software company and online presence ubiquitous in the game of football, was founded in 2006. Over the 13 years since, it has grown to encompass 5.8 million users and 153,000 teams over 30-plus sports, per its website.

Its ability to help football programs instantly edit and share video is perhaps what it is best known — and most relied upon — for, though Hudl has expanded beyond that to become a resource in stat-keeping, scouting, teaching, organizing, recruiting and other endeavors. Most teams these days keep their playbooks on the platform.

Hudl has become so prevalent and such a requisite tool, in fact, that it's won over the old-school coaches along with the new.

"The biggest change is, when I first started (as an assistant coach in Charleston in the late 1990s before becoming a head coach at Flanagan High School in 2002), we were still exchanging tape, actual VHS tapes," said current Seneca head football coach Ted O'Boyle. "Now we usually have one film ready by the time our game is done and the others by Saturday at 8 o'clock.

"And you can break it down so much quicker, point and click and edit and play it 20 times in the time it used to take to play it twice. The biggest thing to me is the time involved. How much time it saves really helps you."

Not that change in a game steeped in tradition came easily.

"I think everyone is a little hesitant about that, especially in football," O'Boyle said. "We had a routine of taking video of a game, copying it, then we moved from VHS to DVD. I think all of us coaches who had been around a while were hesitant (switching to Hudl), but looking back it was obviously the right move.

"I'm kind of old school, and I still am. I can use Hudl, but I'm glad we have a couple of guys on staff who really know how to use it and what it's capable of."

What is it capable of?

Just about anything football coaches can come up with.

Want to know what your opponents' tendencies are on third-and-3?

Want to know what situations cause your arch-rivals' quarterback to scramble, and to which side of the field he tends to scramble to?

Want to know what percentage of the time that all-conference safety is going to fire in on an all-out blitz?

Want a quick, almost effortless statistical breakdown?

Perhaps just as important, want to self-scout and know all of those things about your own team?

Hudl, Hudl, Hudl, Hudl, Hudl.

"Hudl makes it so easy," said Nate Eimer, a West Aurora graduate who took over the program in 2011 and has led the Blackhawks to four straight Class 8A playoff berths.

"I mean, where does a team change its defense, on what yard line? ... When you watch a game and you call a play, and you think it was great but the defense blew it up. You have to look at yourself and go, 'How did they know I was going to that?' and that's when things started to click with me.

"If you teach your kids right, they can grab a three- to five-minute Hudl clip, and there's just so many things you can do with it, utilizing it to share drills with middle-school coaches, it just goes on and on. ...

"It's amazing, and every year I seem to learn more stuff that you can do."

Speaking of converting old-time football coaches, Nate Eimer uses Hudl to share game footage with his father — former 1970s/1980s Marmion Academy head football coach Mike Eimer — for help in breaking the video down.

"He does a lot of input for us, and he wanted to be involved in the program," the current Coach Eimer said. "He's like three hours away now, but Hudl makes it easy for him to stay involved despite the distance."

All of that convenience isn't cheap.

This offseason, Hudl caused a stir among football coaches by altering its payment and storage structure, the first price change according to its website since 2006. The current fees, which went into effect on June 1, raised the annual subscription costs for high school/small college teams to $900 for the basic "Silver" package to $3,000 for the more storage/more bells and whistles "Platinum" package.

Most coaches, however, would argue it's still a value ... and also that its impact on the game — and today's players — has been invaluable.

"I generally think kids today are better consumers of the game," Schneeman said. "They have a better idea of what they're looking for, and I honestly — no offense to any of my former coaches or any other coaches from the past — think (players today) understand the game better than players in the past. It's just so much easier to get that information out now.

"Hudl makes that information more accessible, and players have become more efficient at watching film and overall more educated about the game. And if you look at schemes, offensively and defensively, they're more sophisticated, more complex.

"With Hudl you can get a lot more done in a lot less time, which allows you to do a lot more."

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Friday Night Drive's Steve Soucie contributed to this report.