They call it “The Most Used Secret In Sport,” and now USC football will be using the Catapult GPS tracking system in 2015 to monitor player movement, Steve Sarkisian revealed at Pac-12 media days.
“We’re using the new Catapult system that’s measuring all of the amount that guys are running every day in practice and on game day,” Sarkisian said.
Catapult is a biological monitoring system developed in Australia as part of a commitment to improving the country’s showings at the Olympic Games. Originally taking the form of laboratory testing, the system shifted towards wearable sensors so that athletes could be tracked in more natural environments.
Now, Catapult has been picked up by teams in a growing variety of sports throughout the world. It’s acknowledged American clients include including Florida State, Alabama, Baylor, Oklahoma State and the Buffalo Bills. Chip Kelly used the system at Oregon.
Catapult tracks everything from speed, distance, acceleration, deceleration, explosiveness and power. All of that data collection is live, allowing coaches to quantify exactly how much and what kind of work each individual athlete is doing in real time.
“The best way to understand it is to compare it with a dashboard for a car, without which you wouldn’t know how your car is performing,” said Boden Westover, Catapult’s Director of Marketing.
Specifically, Sarkisian hopes to use the technology to handle the issue of managing Adoree’ Jackson’s game time.
The star cornerback-receiver-kick returner is slated to participate in three phases of the game in 2015.
Projected as a starting cornerback, Jackson is also expected to play more of a role on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014, he saw action as a receiver in eight games, catching 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Through spring he alternated practices on offense and defense with an eye towards seeing a set number of reps on offense each week.
He will also maintain his kick return duties, after returning two kicks for touchdowns last year.
The trouble is that even an athlete as talented as Jackson could be rendered ineffective due to overuse.
“We need to manage him because I need him to be really good in November just like I want him to be really good in September,” Sarkisian said.
Objective data from Catapult will allow the Trojan coaching staff to keep Jackson from overloading as he works through fall camp, which should give them an idea of how much he can be involved in each game once the season begins.
There are other practical uses for the system as well.
In 2014, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher credited Catapult with reducing soft tissue injuries by 88% in the two years leading up to their national championship. The Seminoles reported far less muscle pulls and tears because coaches were better able to track conditioning and knew when to push players and when to give them a break.
There is also a benefit towards getting players ready to play after injury. With data from the pre-injury period, coaches can see when the player’s output post-injury is back to normal levels.
That kind of management could make a huge difference for the Trojans in cases like Tre Madden, who dealt with a nagging hamstring injury in 2013, or Ajene Harris, who faced similar troubles in 2014. Instead of rushing players back only to see them re-aggravate or re-injure, coaches can better quantify exactly when a player is operating at full speed.
Consider how much more effective USC’s offense would have been in 2013 if Marqise Lee had been running at full speed for a larger chunk of the season. The same goes for 2012 when Robert Woods was hindered by injury.
Also consider what the knowledge from this kind of monitoring could have done for the Trojans in 2014, as they navigated severe depth concerns. Though fourth quarter collapses may still have been a reality, the coaching staff may have been more prepared to manage fatigue.
USC’s depth concerns are less dire this year than last, but they will still need every advantage they can get to make a run at the Pac-12 championship and the College Football Playoff.
With a November slate of Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and UCLA, the Trojans cannot afford to burnout.