High-tech approach helps Belle Vernon get ready for prime time

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Belle Vernon packs a lot more than uniforms for football games.

As the Leopards load the bus for a trip to Mechanicsburg and the PIAA Class 3A championship game, they will cram in several iPads and charts, along with a big-screen television and a canopy.

A high-tech program with its sights on back-to-back state titles, the Leopards (12-1) will again lean on technology when they line up against District 11 champion Northwestern Lehigh (15-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field.

The big Mon Valley vs. Lehigh Valley game will be on the tube. Belle Vernon sets up its 42-inch TV on the sideline behind the bench and watches, in real time, plays that just happened.

“We have been using iPads for years now,” Leopards coach Matt Humbert said. “We started using the TV about five years ago. We carry it with us wherever we go, but we do so carefully. Someone broke the last one. We have a crate with about 1,000 feet of extension cord in case we need to plug in at a 7-Eleven somewhere.”

The team uses three iPads for games: one for offense, one for defense and one that is connected to the TV, using software from game film innovation company Hudl.

“It’s all part of our process,” Humbert said.

Softball player Talia Ross is in charge of one of the iPads. Former player Reiley Wiant, a linebacker at Saint Vincent, charts the plays off the TV as games are in progress.

“It’s great to be able to bring the linemen over and show them what happened,” Humbert said. “’Here’s clip 77. This is what we’re talking about.’”

Senior linebacker Tanner Moody said the coaching staff’s attention to detail is one of the reasons why the two-time WPIAL champions function so well.

The remote control goes well with the team’s athleticism, playmakers and experience.

“After every series, we get with Coach O (Jeff Ogrodowski) and talk about what we can do better,” Moody said. “There is someone in the box who (relays) down to headsets and tells us what to look for (on TV).”

The Leopards are constantly using film to analyze games, wins or losses.

They use Google Classroom to share clips with Humbert, emphasizing or highlighting tendencies on his players and on opponents.

“We have the end-zone camera and Hudl camera,” running back Jake Gedekoh said. “To see the plays physically is huge for us. Watching replays helped us against Elizabeth Forward last year. They ran a flex and had two tight ends. We saw them hook.”

Humbert said the TV came in handy last year in the WPIAL championship against Avonworth. (The Leopards beat the Antelopes in back-to-back title games).

“We saw what their outside backer was doing, so we moved our fullback inside,” he said. “It led to (Quinton Martin’s) 50-yard touchdown run.”

While most Class 6A and many 5A programs use notebooks and TV screens to make on-the-fly adjustments, Belle Vernon is a smaller school with a cutting-edge philosophy.

Some high school programs can get instant feedback and break down film as well as college and NFL teams.

Belle Vernon wants to gain any advantage it can.

“We have better equipment than some of the colleges I have visited,” Gedekoh said. “The way our coaches game plan here is outstanding.”

While the technology has helped the Leopards, there have been times when feel overshadows computerization.

“Absolutely,” Humbert said. “Sometimes you get a glitch or something can’t be done fast enough. You go with what works.”

As prepared a staff as there is in the state, Belle Vernon’s coaches were analyzing every aspect of Northwestern Lehigh during another 40-plus-hour work week.

The Leopards have been through state-final prep before, so this is nothing new.

“It’s status quo,” Humbert said. “It’s a grind, no question. You want them to enjoy the game, but I told them to enjoy the process.”

Humbert said Northwestern Lehigh will present a challenge with its size and speed.

“They’re a mix of us, Penn-Trafford and Thomas Jefferson,” he said. “They run the football with power, iso … There is a lot of motion, and the formations are always changing. There are a lot of moving parts and people. They are solid across the board.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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