HANOVER, N.H. — The Dartmouth football team has partnered with STRIVR Labs to bring an immersive virtual reality platform that essentially places a football player onto the field. The Big Green will be the only Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team using the technology this year, along with a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools — Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Stanford, Vanderbilt — as well as the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League.

Former Stanford kicker Derek Belch, a former recruit of Dartmouth’s Robert L. Blackman Head Football Coach Buddy Teevens when he was at the helm of the Cardinal program, developed the program that utilizes an Oculus rift headset and headphones to bring the action on the field to life wherever the set is worn.

Belch unveiled the system to 10 NFL coaches and Denver Broncos’ GM John Elway at this year’s NFL Combine, and the reaction was swift and enthusiastic.

“Being the best means having the best, and this is cutting-edge stuff,” Teevens said. “NFL teams are looking at it right now. Eventually everyone is going to want to have this. This puts us ahead of the curve.”

Tipped off about what his former kicker was developing, Teevens texted Matt Doyle, the Stanford director of football operations, to find out more. Soon he was talking with Belch himself. Teevens was pleased to find out that one of the first to join the STRIVR effort was Trent Edwards, another of his recruits who went on from Stanford to play five years at quarterback in the NFL.  

“Buddy wanted to learn more,” explained Belch, who was on Memorial Field filming plays late in the spring practice period with a Rubik’s Cube-sized gizmo tiled with small digital cameras that are used to create the 360-degree picture that provides the virtual reality picture. “We spent 45 minutes on the phone talking. He’d heard and read about what we were doing and I thought it was a natural fit for Dartmouth.”

When Teevens first put the headset on and a play began to develop in front of him, his reaction was fairly typical. “I was stunned at how realistic it was,” the coach said. “I’ve had something like that on before, and it was animation almost. This was the real thing. Literally, there was a snap and I moved my hands to catch the ball, which obviously was not present.”

Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams had the chance to put on the headset in Floren Varsity House this spring and was immediately sold. “I was absolutely amazed when I put the headset on,” he offered. “Not only was the picture extremely clear but I was interacting mentally in a virtual world.
“I was able to take mental reps by reading coverages without being on the field — invaluable to a quarterback. The most surprising part of it all was the ability to turn around 360 degrees and see my would-be running back and teammates. Oculus is the next big thing for film study/player development.”

While the connection with Belch helped Dartmouth get a jump on the VR movement, this isn’t like adding another DVD player or two. It was thanks to the Friends of Dartmouth Football’s unyielding commitment to helping the college re-establish itself as the gold standard of Ivy League football that, with a nod from Senior Associate Athletic Director Drew Galbraith, Dartmouth was able to commit this spring to purchase the system.

Perhaps the system's most effective use is for schooling not the starting quarterback, but the backups who don’t get the same number of live reps as the starter against the scout team. But it won’t merely aid the quarterback in making proper reads of the defense.
“The beauty of it is that it doesn’t just have to be the quarterback,” Teevens said. “You can use it to let an inside backer see what the offense is doing. Or a strong safety or an offensive or defensive lineman. We even filmed from the center’s perspective. He’s kind of the center of activity, and we can show what he’s seeing, left and right. It’s a great way of schooling a younger center.

“Players can go upstairs, put the thing on and in half an hour get 40 snaps,” added Teevens. “It will be very helpful for getting our freshman ready even before they get on the field.”

Teevens gives Director of Football Operations Joey McIntyre credit for helping him see the potential of the STRIVR system on and off the field, and believes that it won’t be long before every school will covet the STRIVR system. That Dartmouth has it first will be another benefit.

“We are always looking for differentiation and this is something we’ll have for two years that no one in the Ivy League will have,” said McIntyre, whose responsibilities with the Dartmouth program include overseeing recruiting. “This will give us the ability to put a recruit in the middle of the Green, or at the skiway or in the middle of Memorial Field. Then once they get on campus, it will transition to football.”

“Something I like is we can take it on the road recruiting,” Teevens said. “All you need is the (headset) and a computer. We can sit down with a recruit and say, ‘Here, take a look. This is what we do. This is how we read. This is how we progress.’ There’s a lot of opportunities to use this.”