High School Sports

Number crunching: A high school football program’s embrace of analytics and video

River Ridge head coach Steve Schultz looks over his players on the opening day of football practice at River Ridge High School in Lacey on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.
River Ridge head coach Steve Schultz looks over his players on the opening day of football practice at River Ridge High School in Lacey on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. toverman@theolympian.com

Steve Schultz’s approach to coaching a high school football team involves a lot more than Xs and Os.

It involves a complex grading system based on his love of numbers.

Schultz is obsessed with math. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in technology, and teaches statistics at the River Ridge High School in addition to coaching the football team.

Based on this detailed system, Schultz is able to construct a layered depth chart that is updated with the most current information on each player. This allows for Schultz to know in real time where a certain player stands on his chart.

It’s a chart that Schultz uses religiously, one that guides him throughout the season.

“I’m the linebacker coach,” he said. “My philosophy is this — if you grade out at a 70 percent, you’re splitting reps with your guy for the next week’s practice. When you go out for your first series, we’re watching and grading you. If you’re still at a 70, the next guy’s in.

“Now if you go 75 percent and then you go 79 percent — you’re improving — you might keep your spot. You go two weeks of 70 percent without improving, you’re out. Because that’s average. That’s not acceptable.”

The idea first caught his attention when he was a player at Newport in the 1980s. There, players were graded based on their on-field performance. Schultz took note of this before moving on to play football at Whitworth University.

When he got his first head coaching job at Montesano in 1998, Schultz implemented a grading system of his own.

He gathered together traits and measurables that he deemed desirable. Physical attributes were factored into the scale, as well as personality characteristics such as work ethic.

When he came to River Ridge in 2002, Schultz brought the system with him.

“Every kid that plays on a Friday night, they get graded,” Schultz told The Olympian in August. “I want my coaches doing that because they need to see that. I’ve always graded. I used to grade off VHS. It’s huge for determining my lineups. We try to take things that are measured, things that we want to see on the football field, and find a way to measure those things, and then score it.

“I’ve got a scoring system, a player ratings system. In the spring, we run a 40, we do eye test, we do a vertical leap. So we test speed, we test agility. We do multiple rep maxes on bench, squat, power cleans and dead-lift. And we measure those, and we put this into a scoring system that I have. It’s a lot of number crunching.”

Academics also factors into the system, which is based on a 100-point scale. Out of the 100 points, 30 are reserved for academics.

But not each component of the system is weighed the same. For example, speed is more important for defensive backs than it is for interior defensive lineman.

The system is broken down into three sections: weights and speed, academics and dependability. The last factor, dependability, is comprised of weight room attendance, team camp attendance and practice attendance.

The pursuit of forward-thinking has long been a staple in Schultz’s tenure as coach. And it has paid off as the dangers surrounding football have been well-documented recently.

“Take the head out, the rugby style tackling — we were doing that before the movie ‘Concussion’ came out,” he said. “We took it from the (Seattle) Seahawks way back when. ... We were doing that for at least two years before USA Football adopted it.

“In fact, we would go to a USA Football (clinic) and they would still have the head involved in blocking. I’d look at it and go, ‘This is a waste of my time.’ We don’t teach this anymore. The next year, USA switched. So, we’ve been ahead of them with tackling.”

When the digital revolution hit, Schultz embraced it and adapted with the times.

Instead of resisting change and attempting to hang onto the old way of running a football team, he ushered in the modern era with open arms.

Schultz said he doesn’t really lecture anymore, as opposed to when he first started coaching. Now, it’s all video.

“We’re up to par with technology,” he said. “When Hudl first came out, we got it. We use it. We watch film. We monitor our kids watching film — how much time they spend. We give assignments, we teach off of it. I would say technology-wise, we’ve been bought in for awhile.”

Hudl is a software company that allows users to upload film and edit it for the purpose of analyzing practices, games and individual performances. Schultz said that he’ll personally spend up to eight hours a week of watching film.

Something’s working. The Hawks, who are 1-1 this season, have made the Class 2A playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

“I just don’t want to be wrong,” he said. “Where I’m at, I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can for us to win the game. And then it’s in the kids’ hands.”

Logan Stanley: 360-754-5433, @LSscribe