Thornton Academy offensive and defensive line coach Nick Tabor uses a tablet displaying video replays to (from left) Jack Webb, Kyle Holman and Jerry Nason during a game this season. Courtesy Thornton Academy

Thornton Academy offensive and defensive line coach Nick Tabor uses a tablet displaying video replays to (from left) Jack Webb, Kyle Holman and Jerry Nason during a game this season. Courtesy Thornton Academy Courtesy Thornton Academy

Instant replay has come to high school football sidelines in Maine.

In fact, compared with the NFL and the NCAA, high schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to some sideline technology.

Several teams in southern Maine this fall have been using tablets, phones and even large video monitors to review plays just seconds after they happen. Coaches use the replays to make strategic adjustments during the game. A quarterback can use the replays to identify defensive tendencies that might be difficult to see in real time.

“I wish I would have had this in years past,” said Westbrook senior quarterback Bailey Sawyer, whose team started using replay software this fall. “I definitely think it’s given us an advantage.”

The use of replay technology in high school sports was approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2013. This season, as the technology has become more accessible, more high school football teams in Maine have been employing it. The rule states that instant replay cannot be used to dispute the calls of game officials.

The Maine Principals’ Association has not received any questions or concerns about instant replay creating a competitive disadvantage for teams that don’t have it, said Assistant Executive Director Mike Burnham.

The NFL does not allow video footage to be used on the sideline or in coaching booths. The Microsoft Surface 4 that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick slammed to the turf in frustration during a game earlier this month was only showing still photos.

The NCAA adopted a rule before the 2016 season to allow video replay for the first time. But use of the replays is restricted to coaches in the press box and for use in the locker room at halftime.

Video replay is changing the way some coaches are instructing players during games. Being able to look at a play more than once helps them gather more complete information.

“We can definitely look at all aspects now,” said Westbrook assistant coach Chuck Trafton, who views the Blue Blazes’ defense on his tablet. “It used to be you’d get one look and I might be focused on the linebackers. This year you can go back and see if they’re all aligned correctly.”

Biddeford started using replay in midseason this fall after noticing Westbrook using it during the Tigers’ win at Westbrook.

The Tigers got an immediate payback on their investment in the first quarter of their next game. After York had successive long runs on the same off-tackle play, Biddeford’s coaches saw what was happening and gathered players around a large video monitor propped on their home bench at Waterhouse Field. They viewed the plays, made adjustments and effectively shut the play down the rest of the game.

“We point out things to our players as they happen,” coach Brian Curit said. “Whether it’s an alignment or some assignment that we need to address. It’s worked well.”

TECHNOLOGY COMES WITH A COST

Football coaches have filmed games for years – typically from the press box, sometimes from the end zone – to study their own team and scout opponents. The process for high school coaches in particular changed dramatically when Hudl, a Nebraska-based company formed 10 years ago, and other competitors began marketing software that made it easier for coaches to store, edit and share game tapes.

Twenty-two southern Maine varsity football coaches were surveyed for this story about how they use video technology. Each of them uses Hudl, which allows video to be uploaded to opposing coaches, makes study tapes more accessible and explanatory for athletes, and significantly reduces the time it takes to create and distribute highlight films for recruiting purposes.

“The greatest use for us is having our kids watch opponents,” Kennebunk coach Joe Rafferty said. “We break down their films and send players all kinds of information related to upcoming games. You can watch a game anywhere you have Internet access and a computer or phone to watch it on.”

“There’s no end to how specific you can be with tagging plays,” said Cheverus coach Mike Vance. “If you want to you can look at every time your opponent had a third-and-seven in the third quarter from the left hash in the rain. It’s a matter of will and manpower to break it all down.”

Only recently has Hudl techonology allowed for instant replay. At least nine teams in southern Maine have been using instant replay in some capacity: Bonny Eagle, Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus, Falmouth, Gray-New Gloucester, Scarborough, Thornton Academy and Westbrook. Kennebunk, Portland and Noble hope to add video replay in 2017. Greely, Fryeburg and Marshwood also are considering it.

In a recent game against Biddeford, Westbrook's Miece Loureiro benefits from a block by teammate Hayden Phelps to avoid defender Cam Lantagne. Both teams use sideline video technology for what one coach called "instant accountability."

In a recent game against Biddeford, Westbrook’s Miece Loureiro benefits from a block by teammate Hayden Phelps to avoid defender Cam Lantagne. Both teams use sideline video technology for what one coach called “instant accountability.” John Ewing/Staff Photographer John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Hudl offers three annual subscription levels of its instant replay software, called Hudl Sideline. The $500 per year package allows one camera angle to be shared among four viewing devices. For $900, teams have two camera angles (i.e., sideline and end zone) sent simultaneously to six viewing devices with some hardware extras. The $1,500 option also has two camera angles for up to eight devices, with premium support and even more gadgets.

All replay packages are in addition to the cost of Hudl’s storing, sharing and editing software, which costs $800, $1,400 or $3,000 per year per program (up to four teams). The price difference is essentially based on how many hours of practice video a team desires.

“Everything costs extra,” Bonny Eagle coach Kevin Cooper said. Bonny Eagle uses Hudl for video storing and viewing, and is in its second year of using a software called Sky Coach for replays. “Fortunately, we have a great booster club that provides these things for us,” Cooper said

SOME SCHOOLS CAN’T JUSTIFY EXPENSE

Bonny Eagle, the 2013 Class A champion, has become one of the state’s premier programs. For the Scots and other top teams, instant replay capability is another tool that can help keep them ahead of the competitive curve.

But what about those programs that are already struggling? Chances are they have smallish rosters, fewer coaches and possibly a less active booster club to generate revenue for extras. Nothing prohibits one team from using instant replay if its opponent does not have the software.

Teams not using instant replay point to three key factors that have kept them from adding it: Players who start on both offense and defense don’t have time during games to watch replays, using video replay effectively requires more coaches, and they can’t afford the software. Plus, high school games have fewer extended breaks in the action than televised college and professional contests.

“I would love to use it, but I’m not sure it would help us,” said Yarmouth coach Jason Veilleux, who as a licensed drone pilot knows about technological innovation. “Obviously it costs money, but the biggest thing for us is we have 27 kids and they pretty much play all three phases of the game. Our kids never come off the field to talk to them about it. And we only have five coaches, and all of our coaches are coaching both sides of the ball.”

Andy Hager is the coach at Gorham, which this year struggled through an 0-8 season in Class B South. Hager agrees that teams need numbers – of players and coaches – to make in-game replay valuable.

“We have six coaches right now, four guys on the field and two in the booth to watch,” Hager said. “I think I would need two more guys (to manage video replay), to be honest, and that would be the majority of their responsibilities, at least on Friday night.”

But, as Hager pointed out, if Gorham can get back to the point where it is more competitive, then having replay could prove advantageous.

“When one or two plays make the difference in a game, I can certainly see why people would want it,” he said.

‘INSTANT ACCOUNTABILITY’

Vance, the Cheverus coach, said he decided quickly it was important to get Cheverus using video during games.

“At first it seemed like an expensive luxury, but it won’t be long before you’re at the wrong end of the arms race,” Vance said.

For now, Cheverus is keeping the video tablets in the press box and taking special advantage of getting an end zone view to see the nuances of line play.

“We haven’t shown (players) the technology,” said Vance, in his first season as the Stags’ coach. “For us, it’s valuable as coaches to know where they are lining up and we can make adjustments in our own scheme. We may advance to the point where we show two or three plays at halftime, but we’re not there yet.”

Other teams are using video replay to give players visual in-game tutorials.

“Instant accountability” is how Westbrook assistant coach Patrick Colgan put it. “You can go back and show the guy right away, where previously you had to wait until Saturday morning to do that.”

“This is our first year using it,” said Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal. “I think last year was kind of a test year for (Hudl). We had used stuff on the sideline before and at halftime. This year you get that instantaneous feedback. When it’s working, its been great. There are still some times when it’s slow. Kind of like what Belichick was talking about.”