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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
A program created by a St. Petersburg Catholic assistant is helping coaches put together player highlights, a big recruiting tool, in minutes instead of hours.
By JOE SMITH
Published January 27, 2007
As college prospects go, Doug Thompson was the hidden gem from Armwood's back-to-back state championship teams.
The 6-foot-1, 250-pound linebacker, considered too big and slow by many, caught a break.
Thanks to APEX Sports Software, Armwood coach Sean Callahan was able to - in just minutes - create a video showing how Thompson would be a perfect fit for a college as a down lineman.
The clips found their way to Wofford College coach Mike Ayers, who offered the 2006 Armwood graduate a scholarship; this season, Thompson will compete for the starting nose guard spot.
"That's what APEX does - it helps me get those fringe kids, the ones that aren't D-I, looks from college coaches," Callahan said. "Before, it took me three weeks to do all my cut-ups. Now, I just push a few buttons and they're done."
The $3,500 software, developed by St. Petersburg Catholic assistant Frank Girardi is revolutionizing game-film breakdown and streamlining the recruiting process.
More than 180 high schools in Florida - including Class 4A state champion Plant, Largo and Bradenton Southeast - use it, as well as 80 colleges around the country; Jay Gruden, coach of the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators, swears by it.
The software records and sorts data through voice recognition. It makes retrieval easy: Girardi created highlight DVDs for his 12 seniors in 30 minutes. He put them on a Web site, spcfootball.org, and e-mailed the link to hundreds of college coaches. Within minutes, Girardi said he was flooded with e-mails and calls, many from Division II, III and NAIA schools who didn't have the travel budget to recruit Florida.
This summer he hopes to open the site for free to any high school prospect in the nation. It will sort players by size, position, speed, bench press, etc; for a $500 subscription fee, college coaches will be afforded a buffet table of videos for potential finds. For college coaches with APEX, the subscription fee would be waived.
"It's the immediate feedback that makes this so unbelievable," said Chris Stein, coach for Chadron State, a Division II school in Nebraska. "For us coaches, it just doesn't get any better than that."
No slowdown here
Girardi moved his family from Pittsburgh to St. Pete Beach in 2003, planning to retire. But the 52-year-old software company owner has never been busier.
He sounds like an air-traffic controller as he demonstrates APEX, which he created and patented four years ago. Wearing a headset with a microphone, he enters data by describing each play aloud:
"Trips right ... Ace ... 44-30 ... Run ... (No.) 24 left ... 25-yard line. Record play."
With SPC's playbook previously stored, the computer recognizes each term ("Jumbo," "Trips") before recording, storing and displaying a list of plays at the bottom of the screen.
Each game takes 30 minutes. At the end coaches can watch, for example, every play an opponent ran out of the I formation on first and 10 from the left hash.
The system includes a stat keeper, player grading system and charts on opponents' tendencies.
"There's nothing better," Gruden said. "I used to have to constantly rewind, fast forward and stop tapes. I used to write formations on cards, slips of paper - but not anymore."
Old school meets new
Even admitted old-school coaches such as Callahan, Southeast's Paul Maechtle and Largo's Rick Rodriguez embrace the technology.
"For us geezers, learning new stuff is hard, but this is a great way to go," Countryside coach John Davis said. "It used to take me five or six hours to (make highlight tape) for one kid. Now, it's a snap."
In SPC's case, it's snazzy, too. For Girardi's son, quarterback Dave Girardi, his DVD breaks down each set of plays into categories such as "Scrambles," "Poise," "Crossing Routes," etc.
On the bottom of the screen, Girardi's height, weight, statistics, GPA and 40-yard dash time scroll like an ESPN ticker.
The highlight files can be seen online or sent to coaches via e-mail. Of the 40-plus e-mails from parents, players and recruiting services Stein receives a day, Girardi's link to SPC's site stood out.
It won't guarantee a scholarship, but, "right away, we know if we want to recruit the kid or not," said Aaron Bobbins, recruiting coordinator for Assumption College, a Division II school in Massachusetts. For example, Bobbins said the Hounds hosted 10 recruits they first saw on sunshinepreps.net, a Saint Leo-based site with 1,200 prospects.
Bobbins, a 27-year-old River Ridge graduate, said software like APEX could have "made the difference" for former Royal Knights lineman Steve Johnson. Johnson, a 2004 graduate, fell into recruiting obscurity before signing with Nebraska-Kearney.
"There's only so many options in Florida as far as D-II, D-III and JUCOs go," Bobbins said. "Unless you're a top prospect, you've got to look out of state."
To learn how to better market athletes, Southeast students are using APEX as a study tool.
Maechtle, in his 33rd year coaching the Seminoles, said buying APEX three years ago was "like a shot in the arm, a rejuvenation."
The coaching staff has purchased six copies of the software, including one used in the school's Sports Marketing class.
"I never had PlayStation, Sega or Nintendo," Maechtle said. "I don't do well with text messaging, but I love (APEX)."