Unsung heroes of the gridiron

Aug. 7, 2008

Ballard films an individual drill during practice.

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On a blistering hot afternoon in the middle of August, Commodore football players aren't the only ones striving to get ready for the upcoming season.

Perched at the top of four-story towers stationed at the end zone and sideline of John Rich Practice Facility, the video operations staff films the football practices for Vanderbilt coaches. The footage they record help coaches break down plays and evaluate the player fundamentals, enabling them to pinpoint both areas of excellence and need.

"I'd say the best part is just being part of the team," Lacey Ballard, assistant director of video productions, said. "The coaches see us as just as vital as anybody else. For someone who has zero athletic ability like myself, it's nice to be a part of the team."

Head Coach Bobby Johnson said the job performed by the video staff cannot be overestimated, and is crucial to the Commodores' success on the field.

"I can't say enough about the work of our video staff. They do a tremendous job for our program," the head coach said. "Steven (Parks), Lacey, Wes Whaley and the staff are great at their jobs. They're dependable, extremely dedicated and very knowledgeable. What they do for our football team is absolutely critical to our success."

Parks, director of video productions, oversees the staff of seven - Ballard, Whaley and five students. He usually assigns a person to the camera room for loading the footage throughout practice. By the time the players are hitting the showers, the staff has broken down all the tapes except for the recordings of the final periods of practice. By the time the coaches have finished showering and dining, they have tapes of the day's football to review.

"The best part of the job is definitely game days," said Parks. "Game days are the most exciting part, just the atmosphere not only of Vanderbilt stadium but all of the other stadiums that we go to visit, especially in the SEC."

Ballard works on coaching film and various Adobe Photoshop projects, and creates and designs the Player of the Week banners for offense, defense and special teams. "Basically, anything that's asked of me within reason I can do," she said.

Whaley, assistant director of video productions, includes the team's highlight videos among his main responsibilities, though he also handles an assortment of day-to-day responsibilities.

A typical practice for the crew includes shooting five camera angles - sideline, end zone, individual shots for individual drills, etc.

Parks, Whaley and Ballard arrive two hours before kickoff to prepare the cameras, cleaning lenses and making sure the tapes are ready. When student workers arrive an hour later, Parks goes over all the day's angles for shooting.

In addition to game footage, the crew will film shoot game-day activities like Vandyville and Star Walk. Once the game starts, however, at least one person occupies the press box for sideline coverage, and one camera person is stationed in the end zone shooting actual coaching video. The rest of the crew moves down to the field, recording highlights and scenic shots like you'd see on ESPN. The highlight videos then are used for requests from media outlets and the like.

Despite the fun and excitement of games, the video staff experiences the ups and downs of the season just like the team.

"It's just a lot of long hours during the season," said Parks. "So, that becomes tiring and rough."

Would you climb this tower to shoot practice film?

Ballard explained that the crew has to cut up the film and put it into the computer, which is done in real time. So if it's a 30-minute tape and there's 30 minutes of footage, you have to wait 30 minutes before you can do anything with it," she said. "They have to tell the computer when a play starts and when it ends.

"After a game, if it ends at 10 p.m., I still have about three or four hours worth of work to do. So, I'm not getting home until 1 or 2 a.m., and then have to be back at work the next day," Ballard added.

The coaching film is set up so that they see the same play twice - from a sideline and end zone perspective. They also divide the offensive, defensive and special teams footage.

"The coaches don't watch it like we watch a game on TV," Ballard said. "They watch their specific stuff."

The crew works on the highlight videos throughout the week. Every Friday night at the team meetings, the offense and defense will have a highlight video. They record the press conference every Monday. They'll also work on "cutups," where the coaches will select certain plays that they want combined together.

Things ease a bit during the football offseason. They tape the coaching film for soccer, lacrosse, and baseball. They also shoot highlights and footage for the basketball teams. They only film practices for football.

"Offseason is definitely a lot quieter. The summer is our quietest time. We all try to take our vacations then and take it easy, clean up the office and stuff like that," Parks said.

Parks and his staff accept almost anyone interested in joining the video operations crew. They try to find people who've had some experience in sports, especially football.

"We've had people with all kinds of variations of skill sets," he said. "Some that don't know much of anything or know a lot about cameras but don't know much about sports, know a lot about sports but don't know much about cameras and how they all work.

"We try to bring people in who are freshmen/sophomores that way we can keep them through their senior year," Parks added.



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