Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Coach Rich Muraco’s whiteboard was pushed to the side during most of Liberty High’s regional semifinal game last Friday, but not because Muraco and his assistants didn't need visual aids.
Throughout the game, in which Liberty defeated Green Valley, 46-35, players and coaches huddled around the nine chairs flanking a flat video screen to watch instant replays of the game, assessing where strategy was failing, where it was working and what tweaks were necessary.
Winning often takes fine adjustments, Muraco said, so his program purchased the instant-replay tool this year to analyze small details and adapt in close to real time.
“It’s made a world of difference for us,” he said. “You can see mistakes about four seconds after the play is over whereas in the past you would have to wait until Saturday morning.”
Liberty is one of the first of several schools in the valley, including Bishop Gorman, Foothill and Silverado, that has adopted technology that allows coaches to see near instant video of plays on an iPad. Coaches can make notations, slow down video and adjust the zoom to see details they might not otherwise see on the sidelines.
The technology, a software program called echo1612, picks up video from two cameras, one near the end zone and one on the sideline. Staff members then tag the video as discrete clips for each play, which are numbered and sent to iPads. The software costs $1,700 in the first year of its use and requires a $400 renewal, according to echo1612’s website. That package includes equipment to make the software work — a WiFi router, a video converter and an antenna — but does not include cameras, iPads or monitors. Funding for the technology came from the athletic budget allotted to the school. The software is licensed for use in all of the school’s sports.
Muraco, whose team will face Basic on Saturday in the regional championship game, said the tool was especially helpful for making adjustments on the offensive line.
“(We’re) seeing what defensive front the other team has and what they’re trying to do,” Muraco said. “Are they slanting? Are they squeezing gaps? Are they twisting or stunting?"
But he added that the instant replay was helpful for his defense as well. Early in the game against Green Valley, the defensive team came off the field after allowing a second touchdown. Players quickly gathered around the screen, as a coach hooked up an iPad to the monitor and started using clips from Green Valley’s drive to reinforce what went wrong.
“You’re way too lazy,” he told the team. “You’re playing way too soft on them.”
In-game replays have become common practice for professional programs. An irate Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s quarterback, recently threw down a tablet after watching a replay showing a wide-open receiver. But it’s more rare to see the tool used at the high school level.
For Liberty, a primary motivation for acquiring instant replay was to compete with Gorman, which is known for its top-tier facilities and is looking to win a seventh straight state title.
“We’re just trying to do anything we can to close the gap on Gorman,” Liberty Principal Derek Bellow said.
Gorman purchased the tool after hearing about it from Liberty, Muraco said.
But the technology can only take a team so far. Ultimately, Muraco said, it’s about the players.
“Obviously if you don’t have the players and can’t match up on the field, the system might not help you that much,” he said. “But if it’s an evenly matched game with the talent level equal or close to equal, you are at a tremendous disadvantage if you don’t have a system like this.”