How DeSoto, Coppell joined Cowboys, major college programs on cutting edge of football technology -- and why

The statistics that show how DeSoto is cutting down opponents this season are the standard ones, such as point differential and yardage gained and allowed. But the statistics that show how DeSoto is on the cutting edge of football technology require a little more explanation.

"That's the first thing we look at after the game," said DeSoto receiver K.D. Nixon. "We all want to know who was the fastest."

Well, maybe not the linemen. But there are plenty of statistics for them, too -- all provided by wearable tracking devices that produce a head-spinning array of data that coaches and trainers hope will help improve performance and reduce injuries.

A screenshot provided by DeSoto's football program that shows what kind of data Catapult -- a wearable technological advance, to track on-the-field performance and monitor injury risks -- provides to athletic teams. (Courtesy/DeSoto High School)

Players have been using the devices since May, when DeSoto became one of the nation's first high schools to sign on with Catapult Sports, which for years has provided the devices that use GPS and accelerometers to pro and college sports teams. Among its clients are the Cowboys and more than half of the NFL's teams, as well as more than 50 colleges, including Baylor and Texas A&M. A dozen NBA teams are using the devices, including the Mavericks -- and owner Mark Cuban is an investor in the company.

About 30 high schools nationwide are now Catapult clients, but DeSoto was the only one in Texas until a month ago, when Coppell signed up. Coppell coach Mike DeWitt said he's impressed with the data that the devices provide, but because his team began using them after the season started, he expects to see most benefits next year.

DeSoto has already seen benefits, and not just in its 7-0 record and No. 2 spot in the 6A state rankings. Midway through what the Eagles hope will be a 16-game season and state championship, they are healthier than in recent years. Coach Todd Peterman and head athletic trainer Scott Galloway credit Catapult for that.

They say the analytics help them identify injuries earlier and tailor practices to the needs of each player. Galloway said DeSoto has had a 65 percent to 70 percent reduction in soft-tissue injuries.

The data on running symmetry has helped with that. If a player begins favoring one side slightly, it might not be noticed by coaches or trainers. But after a practice or game, each player's asymmetrical percentage is in the data that loads into Catapult's analytical software within 15 minutes.

Coppell Cowboys Chuck Esedebe (31) wears a Catapult GPS and analytics unit during warm up before the high school football game between W. T. White High School and Coppell High School at Alfred J. Loos Sports Complex on Oct. 14, 2016 in Addison, Texas. (Ting Shen/The Dallas Morning News)

"Sometimes you'll talk with a kid and he'll say, 'I'm great, I'm great,'" DeWitt said. "But I can say, hey, you've got a 12 percent running imbalance."

Catapult tailors its device and analytics packages to each school, so the price varies, said Chance Weisensel, a sports performance associate for high schools. The cost of a basic plan ranges from about $3,000 to 5,500 per year. DeSoto's plan includes 45 devices and Coppell's 30, and in both cases, football booster clubs are picking up the tab.

Weisensel has approached several schools in the Dallas area, and he expects more to sign up when word spreads about Catapult. Peterman is helping in that regard, saying that getting the devices was a "no-brainer."

"We always worked hard. We always knew the kids were in great shape," Peterman said. "But we were getting to the point where we wondered if we were overworking the kids."

Each device weighs 2.3 ounces and is worn under the pads. It's tucked into something that resembles a sports bra.

"It feels like it's part of the pads," said cornerback Gemon Green.

One category Peterman and DeWitt both look at closely is "body load." That's a total-exertion value that comes from a player's movement, including distance run at different speeds, acceleration and deceleration, tackling and blocking.

A screenshot provided by DeSoto's football program that shows what kind of data Catapult -- a wearable technological advance, to track on-the-field performance and monitor injury risks -- provides to athletic teams. (Courtesy/DeSoto High School)

"We also do impacts," Weisensel said, "so you can see how often they're taking a hard impact, a light impact, and then use that as an exertion tool."

Catapult representatives help analyze the data, but it can be overwhelming for a high school staff. DeSoto and Coppell don't have the coaching and training manpower of college and pro teams, and they don't have time to pore over the data.

But Peterman and Galloway have seen enough to make a major change in the team's practice schedule.

In previous years, DeSoto practiced Monday through Wednesday and then eased back on the physical training Thursday. This season DeSoto moved that recovery day to what it calls "No SweatWednesday," when the team does mental preparation and a walkthrough. The players are now fresher on game day, Galloway said.

"There are things we can now identify instead of having a subjective answer from a kid," Galloway said. "In years past, you were just guessing. We're able to see things now we've never seen before."

With headquarters in Australia, Catapult Sports is not the only company that provides analytic and GPS monitoring systems for athletes. But it's the largest now that it has acquired other companies such as GPSSports, one of the early adopters of GPS in sports performance management. Another notable company is StatsSports, which has a device called a Viper Pod that is used by several NFL, NBA and MLS teams.