For the third season, Cleburne High School Yellow Jackets Head Football Coach Casey Walraven and his staff are using a bird’s eye view in analyzing football practice sessions.
A drone is now among the Jackets’ standard equipment, and it is operated by several student managers, including senior Sandra Solis. Solis spent her summer filming the team during their sports-specific workout sessions, perfecting her skills as a first-time drone operator. She has been involved as a sports manager throughout high school, working with wide receivers and keeping stats as a junior.
Solis was approached with the drone opportunity by Assistant Football Coach Greg Funderburk, who coordinates the filming effort and the recruitment of students as operators. Funderburk is the audiovisual teacher in the CHS Career and Technical Education program.
“When Coach Walraven asked me about using drones in our practices, it was an emerging trend,” Funderburk said. “We were definitely the first high school in the area to use one. I had to learn, then I taught kids. Now, it’s pretty much run by them — they push me out of the way, saying, ‘We got this.’
“It was Coach [Brent] Burton who brought Sandra to my attention. Part of being a filmer is understanding how football practice works — understanding the process. That helps them get the shots we want because they know how we do things.”
While it took a little practice to master her new management responsibility, Solis brought an understanding of football to the table.
“I like football and I grew up playing football video games with my brother,” she said. “It’s been fun learning to operate the drone — it’s really easy to use. I like learning on my own. A lot of times when a problem comes up, I’m usually the one to figure it out.”
Funderburk says putting the drone in Solis’ hands was a good call.
“She’s done great,” he said. “She’s very responsible, intelligent. She figures things out really quick — she quickly grasped the operating instructions. She got better with each passing day and now she is instructing the other student operators. The student has now become the teacher.”
The use of the drone is restricted to the filming of practices under FAA guidelines. With its close proximity to the Cleburne Regional Airport, Jacket student operators keep their ceiling between 150-200 feet. From that view, coaches can see a lot.
“I knew nothing about drones, but I saw what they could do in providing a view from that prospective,” Walraven said. “I felt getting a drone could be beneficial to us. We asked our Technology Department to help us find a drone that was affordable and would best meet our needs. It’s a great teaching tool with the angles you can get, the ability to see all 22 offensive and defensive players, the depth of routes, alignments, the actual execution of schemes — you just can’t get that from the sidelines. Outside of pads and helmets, it’s one of our most valuable pieces of equipment.”
But Walraven says it takes someone to fly and operate the drone—and that’s where Solis and the Jacket drone team comes in.
“We have up to six kids who have learned how to use it,” he said. “I try to thank them every day for what they do in getting up here for practice, being ready to go by 6 a.m.”
The coaches are also thankful for the savings in time and effort the technology has brought to the program — and them personally.
“This has streamlined things so we narrow in and see exactly what we need to do to get better,” Funderburk said. “The drone gives you the perfect shot, the perfect view of every drill we are working on — it gives you the entire story. We can download the files from the drone right on to the computer and our Huddle software. Our coaches can immediately watch the film, right after practice.”
“Cutting film was before my time,” Walraven said. “I did experience the transition from VHS to DVD and I did my share of burning disks and delivering our film to the coach on the other team. I am so grateful for modern technology that provides instant download.
“The negative to all this is you can’t use a drone at an actual game, so we go ‘old school’ in watching game films. But really, the best teaching comes from the drone practice footage.”
With last week’s official start to the football season, Solis was ready for flight, in chronicling every Jacket move from the air.
While she is enrolled in the dental assistant program at CHS, she admits her newfound skill has her pondering new opportunities.
The drone is also ideal for filming soccer practices, another game Solis knows well, as a manager and a player.
“I’m beginning to wonder if this could become a career for me or a way to help pay for college,” she said. “It would be fun. I’m definitely putting it on my college resume.”
Now that the use of a drone has become a standard in Jacket football, Walraven has set his eyes on another technology tool — VR for the QB.
“Maybe I am a bit of a techie,” Walraven said. “We take a lot of pride in being on the cutting edge of performance and technology. I’m very interested in a virtual reality program they have been using with quarterbacks at Stanford University. I think it’s something we could do here.”