A year ago, Gophers football players were so excited about being on the cutting edge of athletic performance tracking that they couldn't keep it to themselves.
Coach Jerry Kill didn't quite understand how the technology would help yet -- and wanted to hold off making a big deal.
But part of the University of Minnesota's success during an 8-5 season was due to their ability to measure the speed, exertion and fatigue of players in practices and games.
All of that data was stored on a GPS tracking monitor, weighing not much more than a few ounces, placed on the back of their shoulder pads.
It's made such an impact that Kill praised the Catapult System when his team opened fall camp this year.
"We've been working hard with some things inside the lines, so to speak," Kill said. "Knowing how hard you can work and what we're doing, that's a clinic for you someday. It's a clinic for me. It's taken me about a year to do things. But we can pretty much tell how hard you need to push. We can tell if we need to back off, so we can get to the optimum level."
Catapult Sports, based in Melbourne, Australia, is a company that started seven years ago using science and analytics to track performance levels of mainly rugby players.
But they expanded to other sports, including soccer and basketball -- and to other countries such as the U.S.
The use of GPS tracking on athletes is transforming the way NFL teams train and capture data about their players.
Currently, Catapult has 13 NFL teams as clients and six NBA teams, including the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
There are 15 college football teams using the devices, including last year's BCS champion Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, LSU and Minnesota, of course.
”The system just helps the entire coaching staff get a better pulse on their team," Ben Peterson, a sports performance manager for Catapult Sports, said.
"It reports the athlete's speed in practice and how fast they change direction, the amount of mechanical load that they're experiencing. The coaches take that information and make the decision to adjust the rates to the overall performance of the players."
Peterson, who recently graduated with a PhD in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Minnesota, was hired by Catapult this year to work closely with teams in his region, including the Gophers.
But Minnesota strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein said the idea for his program to use Catapult came from members of his staff when they saw a story last year. Klein hesitated at first because he didn't want to disrupt Kill's practice routine.
"Then within a week, Coach Kill comes to me and says, 'What do you guys know about Catapult?' " Klein said. "We're always looking for a competitive edge. He had heard about it, too. We knew enough about it. So that started the process and got the ball rolling.”
The U rents 45 devices for $79,000. Two years ago, Florida State purchased 30 units for $80,000 over three years, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher credited Catapult for reducing soft-tissue injuries by 88 percent in the past two years.
Peterson said teams with the devices usually see a 27 percent reduction in soft-tissue injury rates.
At Minnesota, the data from the GPS trackers gets downloaded on laptops almost instantaneously, and Klein's staff collects the information to share with Kill by the time he gets to his office after practice.
The players' speed is tracked by miles per hour. You also can monitor which players are pushing themselves and the ones who are dragging -- and when that happens in practice and games.
"From my standpoint, it's raised our ability to train guys to the expectation that the game places on them," Klein said. "We go hard. But now when we want to back off, we can look at it and say 'You're going at this a little too hard. Let's scale back a little bit."
The most fun the players get out of the system is to see who is running the fastest.
"I get up there pretty good," starting quarterback Mitch Leidner said. "Every sprint day on Wednesdays, we come in the locker room and see the speeds that are posted up there. It's pretty cool to see."
The three fastest players on the team this summer were sophomore cornerback Jalen Myrick, redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards and senior safety Cedric Thompson, in that order.
Myrick ran 22 mph, Edwards ran 22 and Thompson 21.7.
"Their might be a problem with Cedric's one," joked senior running back David Cobb, who ran 21 mph. "What it really does, it shows you your fatigue. It shows you how many yards you ran and how fast you're running. So if one day, you're feeling a little sore, your numbers will show. If one day, you're fresh, then they know what your numbers should be."
Cobb, who was the first back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2006, said it helped the coaches keep him fresh and figure out how to keep him at peak performance.
"When your numbers start to drop, they know they have to back down a little," he said. "It just helps the coaches monitor where are legs are and how fresh we are."
Thompson said the GPS device is annoying to put on at first, especially without pads. There's a strap that holds it in, and it almost fits like a bra around your chest.
He doesn't like wearing it in the game but appreciates what it does for the team.
"Everybody would like to have nice facilities but coach does things that will make us better," Thompson said.
The Gophers were the only Big Ten team using the Catapult system. Iowa used a company called GPSSports, which also has the NFL champion Seattle Seahawks as a client. But Catapult Sports recently bought GPSSports in July.
Kill doesn't care so much what opposing programs are doing. He just knows now how much it has been an advantage for the U.
"I don't want to slow down," he said. "That's why it's been an investment. Our strength guys gather the data, and now we can use that data. So it gives us a better idea. Technology continues to be part of the game.”