Dallas-area programs use GPS tracking to keep players healthy and fresh throughout the season

DENTON – Kyle Keese needs “race horses,” not “plow horses,” on Friday night. In other words, Denton Guyer’s strength coach is obsessed with training fast — and making sure his players don’t lose speed over the course of a season.

Keese bends down to open a box, revealing a tool that has revolutionized his efforts.

Inside are 15 GPS sensors, each slightly larger than an alkaline battery, which fit easily into the vests that several of his players — mostly wide receivers and defensive backs — wear during all practices and games.

When Keese gets home, he uploads the sensor data to his computer. Within minutes it has information about speed, acceleration, distance and much more. In his second year of using the technology, Keese is still learning what it can do.

“It’s off the charts,” he said.

The use of GPS and accelerometers to monitor athletes is widespread in professional and collegiate sports, and the phenomenon has waned. In 2016, eventual state champion Desoto became the first Texas high school to purchase sensors from industry leader Catapult, which counts the Cowboys and Mavericks among its more than 3,800 customers.

But amid a historically hot summer, there has been a surge in UIL and TAPPS programs aimed at tracking their athletes’ workloads and mitigating injury risk. While players enjoy seeing their names on social media rankings for stats like top speed, college coaches aren’t ignoring these measures either.

Keese, the strength and safety coach at Denton Guyer, is constantly learning more about what he can do with the data provided. (Steve Nurenberg/Special Author)

Guyer, Arlington Martin and Grapevine Faith are among several area schools using GPS tracking from Titan, a competitor to Houston-based Catapult. Founder and CEO Stéphane Smith said that in a few years he will no longer have to convince coaches that his company’s technology can help their teams.

“It’s just going to be, ‘We need it,'” Smith says. “It will just be part of the program, like helmets are now.”

For Keese and Guyer’s head coach, Reed Heim, the insights they receive are key to the daily training plan. Most important is the concept of “load”: a composite measure of the stress that a practice or game places on a player’s body.

Keese typically aims for players to “fill their bucket” — or reach 90% of their typical game load — in practice once or twice a week. He also looks at each player’s acute-to-chronic ratio, which compares a player’s daily workload to his overall workload over a period of about a week or two.

If a player’s number is highlighted in red, they are at increased risk of soft tissue injuries such as a calf or hamstring strain. Keese and Heim could hold the receiver or defensive back back in certain drills and use them primarily in red zone work rather than letting them run or cover long distances down the field.

Keese, who is actively knocking on wood, said Guyer has not suffered any soft tissue injuries this season, including during preseason camp – a stark contrast from previous years. His players noticed.

“The team is pretty healthy, I’m not going to lie,” said Oklahoma’s Eli Bowen, the News’ 12th area player in the Class of 2024. “Everyone is feeling good and energized for every game.”

Bowen has found that the team has remained relatively healthy since employees started using the GPS sensors. (Steve Nurenberg/Special Author)

That’s especially important at schools like Grapevine Faith, where a smaller roster means a majority of the team has to play both ways. Head coach Bobby Holland said speedsters like Ben Wagoner weren’t interested in a lighter workload until they learned they often run about four miles in practice.

“I had no idea,” said Wagoner, who feels fresher since Holland and offensive coordinator Darrick Ware cut him.

Before this season, defending state champion Desoto had used catapult sensors repeatedly, but head coach Claude Mathis was familiar with them from his time in the college ranks. Assistant Kerry Sweeny convinced him to reinvest in about ten units, partly because he was worried about the effects of the summer heat.

Desoto introduced the new units at the state 7-on-7 tournament in June. While helping his team win the Division I title in College Station, four-star running back Deondrae “Tiger” Riden Jr. stole the show by hitting 22 mph. Riden had already received offers from most of the top programs in the country, but Mathis said that’s when the calls from coaches started coming.

“That made her even more curious about him,” Mathis says. “He has all these offers at the moment, but this is what convinced him.”

Mathis said his staff also used the data to hold players accountable for their efforts. Ware agrees that in practice there is less rolling out when players know they are being chased.

“They come to practice and try to achieve their best times,” says Ware.

After games, players can view leaderboards on social media showing how they performed or repost replays of their big interception returns or touchdown catches with stats like top speed and in-game acceleration.

“Kids eat it up,” Keese said.

The graphics on social media also caught the attention of Arlington Martin head coach Chad Rives and assistant Blake Hodges. The team received the sessions, which it will share with the football team and other sports, on the day of its season opener. Rives hopes they help answer a central question:

“How do you best prepare your kids for Friday while making sure they have their feet under them?”

Answering that question could be hugely important in November and, coaches hope, December.

On Twitter: @McKennaGregjed

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