When Washington coach Steve Sarkisian analyzed practice film with his quarterbacks last season, he could pinpoint improper reads, blown audibles and poor passing technique. But as a former standout at the position at BYU in the mid-1990s, he especially wanted to know if his signal-callers had command of the huddle. Were they calm and authoritative when relaying plays? Or were they harried and nervous? Sarkisian had no clue because the practice video didn't penetrate the fortress that was the huddle.
Well, it does now. During the Huskies' spring game in April, Sarkisian took advantage of the latest technological gizmo in college football: a five-ounce, three-inch-long-by-11/3-inch-wide video camera that affixes to the side of a quarterback's helmet. Suddenly, Sarkisian was not only in the huddle, hearing the tenor of his signal-caller's voice as he articulated the plays, but he was also in the quarterback's eyes as he scanned the field, made his progressions and unleashed the ball.
"Coaches haven't had this perspective before," says Sarkisian. "This is a technology that we will be using in the future."
The genesis of the camera—which in the past was a fixture in action sports such as snowboarding and mountain biking before being adapted for football practices by schools including Clemson and Notre Dame—can be traced to a student business, plan competition at Washington in 2003. Marc Barros and Jason Green, undergraduate business students at the time, were avid skiers, and they hatched an idea: Let's develop a hands-free camera to attach to our ski helmets so that we can show friends our tricks. Out of several hundred entrants, Barros and Green, the ski bums, unexpectedly took the $20,000 third-place prize money.
"I joke that we should have thrown a big keg party, but we decided to put the money into a business," says Barros, who along with Green launched Contour to sell hands-free cameras later that year. "We started with two people; now we have 60. And when you watch this [football] video, you can really see how fast the game is."
Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, too, is a big believer in the helmet camera. In the spring the Fighting Irish coach had each of his four quarterback candidates take turns wearing the cam. Kelly especially liked the videos he saw from the perspective of senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees. And this week Kelly was expected to name one of the two as the starter for the 16th-ranked Irish this season.
"If [a quarterback] is staring down a particular receiver, we're going to be able to see that," Kelly told reporters of the device. "If he's going through his progression, you're going to be able to see that. It's just another teaching tool for us." One that allows coaches to get—almost—inside their quarterback's head.