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Francis Scott Key football using new technology to speed up tempo, practice social distancing

Francis Scott Key defensive line coach Everett Polzin helps Jacob Dell and Noah Geiman, right, as they set up their Go Rout units during a football practice in Uniontown on April 5, 2021. The Go Rout system allows plays in practice to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time.
Francis Scott Key defensive line coach Everett Polzin helps Jacob Dell and Noah Geiman, right, as they set up their Go Rout units during a football practice in Uniontown on April 5, 2021. The Go Rout system allows plays in practice to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time. (Dylan Slagle)

Will Thompson spent several hours Monday morning finishing his task of drawing up scout team plays for the Francis Scott Key football team in preparation for its Friday game against county rival Westminster, but the Eagles’ coach knew his old-school, time-consuming tactic would pay off in the afternoon.

FSK’s players gathered at 4 p.m. for practice. After warming up and going through some offense and special teams situations, Thompson called for his defense to fetch the team’s wireless play-calling devices from the sideline. It’s a technology called Go Rout, and it allows the Eagles to run plays with more efficiency.

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It also helps Key maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, something Thompson said is a happy byproduct of utilizing the service.

Thompson inputs the plays into his smartphone via the Go Rout app, then syncs it up with the devices used by the players during practice. Each player straps a belt around his waist, and the device, a wearable technology pad, is secure inside a plastic covering.

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The players get buzzed by the pad once a coach calls a play from his device, then take a look at the play while already lined up in a defensive scheme. The players see an image of the design and select it so they can visualize their proper positioning and coverage assignments.

When that play is over, rather than huddling or having an assistant coach hold up a card or binder sheet with the next play, the Go Rout devices are communicating with each other to deliver another piece of the practice script.

The goal is a faster pace during practice, more reps for the offense or defense, and a little extra effort in helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Noah Geiman checks to see a play displayed on his Go Rout unit during a football practice in Uniontown Monday, April 5, 2021. The Go Rout system allows plays in practice to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time.
Noah Geiman checks to see a play displayed on his Go Rout unit during a football practice in Uniontown Monday, April 5, 2021. The Go Rout system allows plays in practice to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“They’ve been very useful for us,” said Thompson, who first heard about Go Rout from a fellow high school coach in Virginia’s Prince William County. “We don’t really do a lot of huddling anyway, but they don’t have to sit in the huddle. ... We can do a lot more things with it.”

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Go Rout has become popular with teams in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, and also with several college programs around the country.

Thompson said the initial cost for the service was around $4,500, and there’s a $500 annual fee to renew the cellular subscription. The program keeps the devices, and Thompson said several fundraising events helped Francis Scott Key come up with the money needed.

“The kids seem to like it,” the coach said. “It took them a couple weeks to get used to it.”

Francis Scott Key High School football coach Will Thompson shows the Go Rout unit, programmed by his phone, that allows plays to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time.
Francis Scott Key High School football coach Will Thompson shows the Go Rout unit, programmed by his phone, that allows plays to be called using an app so players get the plays without huddling up for a longer period of time. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Thompson said the Eagles didn’t have a lot of time to get used to the software ahead of the season, but with a young generation familiar with texting, FSK took to its new high-tech tool.

Key quarterback Jarren Rutter said he sees a difference in using Go Rout compared to last season, when the Eagles scout team players were needing 15 seconds or more per play in a traditional huddle with physical cards.

“I’d say we [are getting] 10-plus more plays in on scout team compared to last year,” Rutter said about the new devices. “I love them. They’re good to work with.”

There are occasional hiccups that come with using the Go Rout service, Rutter and his coach said. For one, a steady wireless signal can be hard to come by in rural Uniontown or inside the high school itself. And at times getting the technology pads to respond through the thick plastic is a challenge.

But Thompson said Go Rout personnel has been quick to help him troubleshoot and walk him through the steps when problems arise.

Francis Scott Key isn’t about to stop using the service in seasons to come, Thompson said, seven when COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.

“No doubt,” the coach said. “We try to go pretty fast on the offensive side, so it helps with the defensive part. We don’t have to wait and tell guys where to go. We can give multiple looks ... we definitely like using it.”

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