Every team is looking for a way to gain the slightest advantage over its opponent. For LSU, the edge that propelled them to a national championship title over Clemson on Jan. 13 wasn’t just the arm of quarterback Joe Burrow. Instead, the Tigers found an unusual ally in football technology: the United States Army.
Heading into the 2019 season, LSU’s football operations complex underwent a $28-million renovation that enabled coaches and players to stand on a 50-foot-wide turf floor, look at the 12-foot-high wall and see an entire offensive formation right before their eyes, The Advocate reported.
Army’s ‘virtual walk-through’ technology allowed Tigers personnel to digitally replicate opposing teams’ play calls using a U.S. Army-built software system named GoArmy Edge. “Some NFL teams had wanted to bring this back as a concept,” LSU Video Coordinator Doug Aucoin said last July. “When we were doing this renovation, it gave us an opportunity to carve out the real estate to put [GoArmy Edge] together.”
Army offers the technology to teams for free, with a dual goal: show its ability to develop cutting edge computer technology and also connect to high school and college athletes, from which the service draws a large number of recruits.
Robert Everett, subject matter expert and marketing coordinator for GoArmy Edge Football, also viewed GoArmy Edge as a recruiting tool for high school coaches. With the Army’s target audience ranging in age from 17 to 24-years-old, the software provides another layer to connect with prospective members.
In 2013, Everett was an assistant football coach and defensive coordinator for Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va. That year saw him coach the annual U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio at the Alamo Dome. It was also where he was introduced to a private, unreleased version of GoArmy Edge.
“Even though it wasn’t close to a finished product, I was able to connect what it could do,” Everett said. “[The Army] really opened my eyes into a different process that could allow me to make plays in a different way or reach players that haven’t been able to be reached in traditional methods.”
To Everett, he saw the Army’s usage of GoArmy Edge as two-fold. First, it was to change the opinion that people previously had of Army troops: that the guys on the ground – and the infantry as a whole – wasn’t as technologically advanced in their training as they should have been.
“This time, [GoArmy Edge] allows people to see that the Army is different and maybe change the perception that’s there,” Everett said.
“Instead of just going in and telling them something, now [high-school football coaches] have something that they can walk into a school or an event and give [their players] and say, ‘here’s something that the Army created for free,” Everett added. “And hopefully it starts a conversation and a relationship with that coach that can lead to the other things that the Army can provide.”
After working with GoArmy Edge, Everett took it back to Virginia with him. By 2015, Westfield’s football program had fully adopted the software, helping it to a state championship that same season. It not only proved to change the Bulldogs’ fortunes, but it led Everett to bigger opportunities in the sport.
In 2016, Everett received an offer to become the defensive coordinator for Bridgewater College, a Division III institution based out of Bridgewater, Va. Part of the reason for his appointment? “The head coach was looking for me to bring their coaching style into the 21st century,” Everett recalled. “That was literally what he told me.”
With GoArmy Edge, Everett and his peers have been able to significantly improve their play-calling possibilities. Since it officially launched in August 2015, GoArmy Edge allows coaches to draw a play inside of it. It is also available for free to schools regardless of size, accessible on both tablet and PC browsers, and available to download through Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Already containing numerous playbooks and drills, the free application virtually simulates the play on a wall with 3D figures that move in sync. It is meant to improve football team performances through more effective and safer player practices.
During team strategy sessions, coaches can use GoArmy Edge to put their plays onto a projector, TV screen, and or/tablet. With built-in playbooks and drills, the technology contains pro-style, spread, and wing-t offenses lined up against even, odd, nickel, and dime defenses. Coaches also have access to numerous offensive and defensive formation patterns, which can be assembled as virtual flashcards to test players.
When reviewing plays, coaches have the capability of drawing scenarios like routes, blocks, and pre-snap mentions. A virtual, pre-populated whiteboard also allows them to draw up plays and move players around as they see fit. The plays – both offensive and defensive – have 2D and 3D capabilities, where people can be able to view from any camera angle or player perspective on the field.
“The idea of 21st-century learning and 21st-century teaching is something that, in my opinion, football needs to get on board with,” said Mike Giancola, Bridgewater’s current defensive coordinator. “That involves very interactive learning environments. Obviously [GoArmy Edge] doesn’t replace anything we do on the field, but it’s certainly supplemented in a lot of ways [past team strategy sessions]. And because it’s an app on your phone, you can just pull out your computer and use it and do those things on the practice field wherever you want.”
Thus far, the expansion of GoArmy Edge into the football sphere has been limited, but attention-worthy. In 2014, the Indianapolis Colts partnered with the Army to begin early-stage implementation of the software under the reign of General Manager Ryan Grigson. As the first notable organization to utilize GoArmy Edge, the Colts kept it in their operations until 2017, when Grigson’s successor, Chris Ballard, decided against it.
Outside of LSU’s triumph over Clemson on Jan. 13, lesser-known football programs have been equally as successful with GoArmy Edge. Alongside Bridgewater, Division II teams like Texas A&M Commerce and the University of West Florida have incorporated the app into their play-calling duties. Like LSU, it has guided the Lions and Argonauts to Division II National Championship titles in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
Moving forward, it’s not only college football that is benefiting from GoArmy Edge. The sport of soccer – which includes high participation on both the male and female side – is the Army’s latest effort at broadening its global sports portfolio.
With the Army recently expanding the software to soccer, GoArmy Edge Soccer assists coaches and players in diagramming and timing set pieces. It also teaches defending, attacking, and virtual transitioning before players take the pitch.
At the moment GoArmy Edge has been adopted only by soccer teams on the amateur and high school level. However, Everett remains confident that, like the Colts and LSUs of the world, elite teams will eventually see the benefits of GoArmy Edge Soccer and begin incorporating it into their training sessions.
“Similar to football at the beginning, I don’t think the soccer world is truly understanding what [GoArmy Edge Soccer] can do,” Everett said. “In my opinion, it’s just not there yet, but I believe that it will get to that point.”