SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- As the St. Xavier football team prepares for its nationally televised season opener Aug. 27, players and coaches have taken a page from a scientific playbook.
The Bombers are using the Catapult system, a computer program that tracks the total volume of work and intensity exerted during practices and games for 15 varsity players. A variety of positions are included in the study.
“Everything about it is pretty cool,” St. Xavier senior wide receiver Louis Raines said.
The program measures several areas including total running distance, number of sprints, heartbeat rate and number of impacts during a practice. Those players also wear small GPS units secured in what the team refers to as a “manziere” on their back.
MORE: See more about St. Xavier using GPS to reduce injuries on 9 On Your Side at 6 p.m.
The investment from the St. X football program was significant, but if data can prevent injuries or limit muscle overuse, the benefits are numerous especially for a team that plays such a difficult schedule each season.
St. Xavier is the only Ohio team that has invested in this system this season, according to Catapult sports performance associate Chance Weisensel. There are 15 high school football programs nationwide using the system. An Illinois program was the first to sign up in March.
Weisensel approached St. X in late May and provided a demonstration. St. X officials were convinced. Coach Steve Specht likes how the system works and is anxious to see how it assists the team this season.
“This information is going to help us a ton as we get into real games and real activity because then we can track a typical week,” St. X head trainer Michael Gordon said.
Western Boone High School in Thorntown, Indiana -- halfway between Indianapolis and Lafayette -- is likely the closest school to Cincinnati that is also using the system, according to the company.
Weisensel said high school coaches using the system like the unique running symmetry data which can track which direction a player moves. That is especially valuable if a player is recovering from a knee or leg injury and favors a particular side or motion.
By using Catapult, Gordon said the system aims to prevent injuries, find an appropriate threshold and adjust team's practice schedules accordingly. It takes a few weeks to compile averages for each of the individuals. By then, Weisensel said, coaches can set the goals and expectations for the players and track the data accordingly.
"You want to create a baseline for the kids -- see what's hard for them and see what's easy for them," Weisensel said. "So the biggest thing right away is to validate how hard they are working."
A player may suggest a practice was tough that day, but being able to measure that objectively adds credence to resting certain players, according to Gordon.
“The science gives more validity to holding a guy out,” Gordon said.
The players don’t seem to mind the extra attire. St. X senior defensive back Kurtis Rolfes and junior running back/wide receiver Cameron Specht said the “manziere” and GPS aren't a nuisance.
A tripod set up under a hydration tent at St. Xavier Stadium allows for real-time data on an early August afternoon when the heat index reached 104 at Ballaban Field.
The geo-tracking tends to heat up the friendly bragging rights.
Raines likes to look at the data after practice to compare how fast he ran in a workout compared to his teammates, namely senior standout wide receiver Micah Ferrar.
“Obviously he is the fast guy on the team,” Raines said. “Everybody is trying to get his acceleration and get his speed. It’s pretty tough.”
St. X, which has seven consecutive playoff appearances, opens its tough schedule Aug. 27 against St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) at 5 p.m. in the 19th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown at Nippert Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
The Bombers will have access to real-time health data about their players in what figures to be a humid afternoon at Nippert Stadium.
Steve Specht, entering his 13th season, is mindful of what it takes to prepare for another campaign and in the national spotlight. But, he wants his team to be smart about decisions that impact a rigorous schedule the Bombers will encounter this season. Specht likes the ability to analyze the health data of 15 of his 110 players on the roster.
“I like the competition,” Specht said. “The kids are going after it. They want a spot. This is one of those years where we don’t return a whole lot of starters. So there are spots to be taken. That’s exciting for me as a coach, for my staff and for the kids. There is a little more giddy-up because they know they have a chance.”
The exuberance is a good aspect of the preseason. But, the Bombers are committed to taking a conscientious approach.
Last week during doubles (two practices per day), Specht decided to cancel a Thursday session and sat seven or eight players on another session based on the data from Gordon’s report. Saturday was the first day of full contact.
Gordon is hopeful that once the regular season begins later this month, the information will prove to be even more valuable given the demands of a school day and a regular weekly practice schedule along with weekend games.
Gordon spends up to 90 minutes daily analyzing data and downloading reports. This preseason, he looks for multiple trends to share with the coaching staff.
“I could give (Steve Specht) data for hours and hours,” Gordon said. “At some point the eyes are going to gloss over it. You have to give important data, not just volumes of data.”
St. X also has 10 players continuing to use the Q-collar and accelerometer that were crucial to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital concussion prevention study from 2015. Dr. Gregory Myer, director of research for the Division of Sports Medicine and the director of the Human Performance Lab at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told WCPO.com he is following up with those players and some of whom have graduated and are in college.
Seven of the 10 current St. X players in the Children's Hospital study are also participating in the Catapult tracking.
“It’s a blessing,” Gordon said. “We know not many places have access to this information.”