ELIZABETHTOWN — Anyone who has attended the first week of high-school football practice at East Bladen High has heard the buzz, and it’s not just a bunch of talk.
The buzz belongs to a “quad copter,” something most are referring to as a drone, that hovers and flys about 40 feet in the air over the Eagles’ practice field — capturing each and every step taken by the players as they go through drills.
“People call it a drone, but it’s really not,” said Steve Strait, the operator of the equipment.
The story of how the “quad copter” came to East Bladen starts in St. Augustine, Fla., when Strait joined a friend in a battle re-enactment there recently.
“This friend of mine had one, and I watched how it was used to video the battle,” Strait said. “Afterward, I told my friend that I just had to have one.”
Not long after, he did.
Strait approached East Bladen football coach Robby Priest with the idea of using the “quad copter” to video practices, and Priest gave him his blessings.
When Strait’s work schedule allows it, he brings the equipment — which includes the “quad copter,” battery packs, a charger and his cell phone to control the flying gizmo — to the Eagles’ practice field. Strait said each battery will last about 20 to 25 minutes, so battery changes take place a few times at each practice.
Once practices are over, Strait transfers everything the “quad copter” catches on video to a DVD and hands it to Priest.
“It gives us a real good, different angle to see what’s going on,” Priest said. “And it’s clear as day.”
Strait said the camera in the “quad copter” remains steady no matter what the copter is doing. But it does have one immediately evident characteristic … that buzz.
“It’s not very quiet,” Strait said. “So the kids, and even the coaches, will often look up to watch it. But as they all get used to it, I’m sure they will start to ignore it.”
Aside from the constant buzz while the “quad copter” is in flight, Priest said it has been extremely helpful to the coaching staff.
“Oh yeah, it’s been real helpful,” he said. “We get a DVD right after practice, we make a copy for each coach and we can all watch it to see what was done during practice. Everyone knows they have to be on point during practice because they are being watched closely from above.”
Both Priest and Strait said the “quad copter” may get some use during the season, as well.
“We’ve talked about using it during a game, probably from the end-zone area,” Strait said. “I’d be a little concerned about it getting hit by a ball on a kick or punt, so it can’t hover over the field.”
Strait’s concern comes from the fact that a “quad copter” costs about $1,340 — plus accessories like batteries, charger and DVDs. But Priest thinks it has possibilities, even from the end-zone area.
“We plan to give it a test run during the upcoming Jamboree,” Priest said. “And if we think it helps us, we’ll check with the state to see if we can get approval.”
The “quad copter” isn’t something high-school football fans will see at many practices anywhere, since most video-recording is done from the sidelines or atop the press box.
“Nobody I know has one of these,” Strait said. “Not in this area, anyway.”