Virtual reality Will McNamara
Virtual reality Will McNamara

Dartmouth football hopes technology makes it virtually unstoppable

Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy made a career out of teaching his players to read visual cues. His methods were necessarily low-tech: He would repeatedly call out to his players in practice, asking them what they were looking for across the line of scrimmage and how they would react to what they saw. The goal was, through verbal repetition, to ingrain players’ reactions so they became automatic. The method worked, but Dungy’s shouted instructions could never fully replicate a game situation.

Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens is taking visual cues to a higher level in partnership with STRIVR Labs.

STRIVR is an acronym for Sports Training in Virtual Reality, and was founded by former Stanford football player Derek Belch. As the one-time Cardinal half jokes, “ST also pays homage to Stanford.” Belch has added former Stanford and pro quarterback Trent Edwards to his STRIVR team as vice president of product and business development.

It was the Stanford connection that brought the technology to Hanover, N.H. — Teevens coached at Stanford from 2002-2004 and recruited Belch.

Presently used by the Dallas Cowboys and five FBS programs (Clemson, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Stanford, and Arkansas), the Big Green are the only FCS team utilizing STRIVR.

When Dartmouth is preparing for games this fall, they can have quarterbacks wear the optics and view the defensive schemes that they’ll soon be facing.

To use STRIVR’s technology, a player dons an Ocular Rift brand virtual reality headset loaded with the company’s software. The headset shows filmed player formations and movements in a fully recreated 360-degree football field environment. It is enhanced by a variety of audio settings that vary from game sounds to a real-time feed directly from a coach. Although the technology will aid any position player, the quarterback is the one most often cited as standing to gain the most. Everything from the center-quarterback exchange to secondary coverage rotations is integrated into the software. Dartmouth currently owns four STRIVR software-loaded headsets.

With nearly a quarter-century at college football helms, Teevens was understandably skeptical when first considering virtual reality.

“I was a little bit jaded as I’ve seen some stuff before and it’s kind of robotic and herky-jerky, it’s like a video game to some extent,” said Teevens. “But the first time I tried this, the ball was snapped and literally I stepped and adjusted my hands for the snap, and of course there was no real snap. That’s a hard thing to replicate. It’s real-time speed.”

Projected Big Green starting quarterback Dalyn Williams, like Teevens, was impressed with STRIVR once he tried it. “I was absolutely amazed when I put the headset on,” he said in a story on Dartmouth's athletics website. “Not only was the picture extremely clear but I was interacting mentally in a virtual world.”

Ironically, its Dartmouth’s backup quarterbacks who stand to benefit the most from the technology. With limited repetitions in practice and diminished focus in meetings typically afforded to second- and third-string players, STRIVR’s technology can step in to bridge the gap and provide younger or backup players with simulated reps.

“It’s going to be very beneficial because you have three quarterbacks, maybe, that you’re trying to get ready. One is going to get the majority of the attention and snaps; your number two is going to get appreciably less; the three guy might not get any,” said Teevens. “But we can put this on a backup guy after practice and back in his dormitory he can go through every single step of his progressions that he may have missed by doing it in real time.”

The benefit extends to the opposite side of scrimmage. Defensive players can expedite their recognition of offensive sets and blocking packages.

Dungy would often have his linebackers make pre-reads of upcoming plays based on minor, often unintentional, adjustments in offensive lineman’s stances, such as subtle but telltale weight shifts when a lineman dropped into a three-point stance. With STRIVR, a linebacker can spend time in a meeting or dorm room studying such subtleties without cutting into valuable team practice time.

“Motions, movements, shifts, offensive line identification, point systems, steps, pass-sets, run-blocking schemes are all there and you can cater it to any position that you like,” said Teevens.

Dartmouth will see the impact of STRIVR when they open their 2015 campaign against the Patriot League’s Georgetown in Washington on Sept. 19.

Above: Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams has been impressed with the STRIVR headset. (Photo courtesy John Risley)

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