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AFM Magazine

Portable Perspective

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Colleges and high schools have long employed elevated end zone and sideline cameras to capture practice and game video that could be reviewed and used as a teaching tool. But, until recently, the stationary cameras were limited in how they could be used in a variety of practice situations. Now, that has changed with the introduction of the remarkable portable elevated camera system from U.S. Sports Video called the SideWinder.

In the summer of 2006, Tennessee Offensive Coordinator David Cutcliffe was watching an Indianapolis Colts practice with his friend, the Colts Video Coordinator Marty Heckscher. As the Colts were going through a passing period, Cutcliffe noticed an unusual camera filming practice-mounted on a volleyball referee’s stand and placed behind the offensive backfield. The camera was about 10-12 feet high.

When shown the angle of the camera shot, Cutcliffe saw the defensive secondary. He noticed that you could see the reaction of the safeties to the snap of the ball and tell, instantly, the actual coverage of the secondary. Cutcliffe then came back to Knoxville with information on this new camera setup and talked to UT’s Video Coordinator, Joe Harrington, about rigging up a similar camera system.

“Coach Cut asked me to rig something similar to what he watched at the Colts practice,” said Harrington. “I rolled a volleyball stand onto the field and went to Home Depot to pick up a pipe and attached a camcorder deck which included the ability to pause and record. We started calling it ‘Joe’s Pole.’” It became a staple of Tennessee practices and was used to tape team, run, and passing periods at each practice.

The Head Coach at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Eddie Courtney, saw the advantages of the high-placed camera at a Vols practice. He, in turn, contacted his friend and manufacturer of his school’s endzone camera system, Mike Bokulich, President of U.S. Sports Video, to discuss the new concept. A pioneer in the field of custom football video systems, U.S. Sports Video invented the original endzone camera systems that include the famous SkyHawk premier remote control system and the Raven custom manual control system. A long-time leader in sports video systems technology, U.S. Sports Video has developed many exclusive sports video systems over the years. They are a total provider for all video needs including digital editing systems, analyzers, Cowboy remotes, DVD recorders and players, DVD duplicators, video projectors and much more.

Bokulich called Harrington about ‘Joe’s Pole’ and the U.S. Sports Video staff went to work on professionally developing the product. Mike worked with his long-time friend and former NASA engineer Dr. John Fakan in perfecting the system. “We drew off the energy of ‘Joe’s Pole’ and went through the process of evolving the product as a manufacturing process,” said Dr. John. “We had the ability to use the extra elevation and put together a portable, quality video system. It evolved in terms of a manufacturing process but we always wanted the opinions of professional coaches in constantly getting their input. The result became the SideWinder, a completely new well-balanced roving telescoping camera system with custom hand grip and LCD Action Monitor screen that is ready to capture the action anywhere on the field.”

The SideWinder was formally introduced to the football marketplace this past winter. A robotic, remote control roving camera system that is compact and ready to go, the SideWinder has a 14-foot telescoping mast that extends instantly. It also has an intuitive, natural pan and tilt system and is scientifically engineered for smooth natural action. The system includes a digital camera with a quick release platform and a multi-function camera remote controller.

Coaches and video coordinators have been literally raving about the SideWinder. According to Harrington, “We still have ‘Joe’s Pole’ but the SideWinder has clearly replaced it. It’s a professionally done portable elevated system with a telescoping mast. It provides the perfect height and viewing angle for all practice situations. We use the system for all QB drills, O-line drills, field goals, special teams, and just about everything else.”

Stan Parrish, the Head Coach at Ball State, believes the SideWinder is invaluable. “It is versatile, lightweight and a high quality system,” said Parrish. Among other drills, we use it for kicking/snapper/holder drills, shotgun snaps, pass protection, 7-on-7’s, chute drills, skelly from behind the QB, and inside run drills. We also use it to watch a quarterback’s footwork, defensive line rush techniques, and pass protection drills. As coaches, we can’t wait to finish practice and look at tape from the SideWinder of our drills that day. It enables us, as coaches, to correct mistakes that we may have missed during the actual practice.”

Courtney likes the angles the SideWinder provides. “This lightweight camera system allows you to record different angles throughout your whole practice,” said the Farragut High School coach. “As a coach you can evaluate fundamental techniques because of the view as you watch the replay after practice. We use it for all position drills, perimeter drills, run game mesh, and 1-on-1 drills. It’s a tremendous teaching too.”

Ron Ernst, the Head Coach at Division III Ripon College, became the first coach in Wisconsin to use the SideWinder. What impressed Ernst is the fact that the product is portable and can be positioned at various places during a practice. “We started using it during spring practice,” said Ernst “and we found it very beneficial for our video person to move around practice at both ground level and into the bleachers for optimal viewing. Throughout the summer I am looking at a multitude of ways in which we will be able to use the system during the pre-season and regular season.”

Ernst had a limited budget but the price point for the SideWinder made it affordable. “It really works for us and we have a very limited budget like many D-III schools,” said Ernst. “When I saw it demonstrated at the AFCA convention I knew it would be perfect for us. Then, when I saw the price, we bought it right away. The SideWinder allowed us to be more flexible as we moved it to various parts of our practices. The fact that it’s a lightweight, portable system makes it easy for our video staff to use. We can use it from the bleachers or move it right up to a specific drill. It is transportable and very easy to adjust the height settings. Then, after practice, it’s easy to disassemble and hook up to a DVD. I think there are applications during game situations as well to use the SideWinder from various angles on the sideline and end zone.”

The SideWinder has become so popular at Auburn’s practices that a new staff member was hired just to use the product. “After seeing the new perspective that I had captured using the SideWinder,” said Auburn Video Coordinator Brent Thomas, “our coaches immediately realized the value of the product and now they all want to use it for their specific needs. We have added a new person to our staff just to capture video with the SideWinder.”

Probably the ultimate complement for the SideWinder came from Dan Radakovich, the now retired coach who was the D-Line coach for the famous Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain in the 70’s. “It is the best one-on-one training tool I have seen in my 50 years of coaching,” said Radakovich.

Clearly a revolutionary new product from U.S. Sports Video, the SideWinder represents the future of practice video technology. It is portable, lightweight and most importantly, affordable for all coaches at the high school and college level. As Stan Parrish of Ball State said, “It is the best piece of video equipment that I have seen and used in the last 20 years. I would recommend it to every coach.”


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