A season of 3:30 a.m. kickoffs is better than no football season at all.
That’s how Whiteland Community High School defensive coordinator Dan Rector sees it.
When the Warriors host a preseason scrimmage against Terre Haute North on Friday night, the 39-year-old Rector — who doubles as a captain in the Indiana National Guard — will roll out of his bed somewhere in Afghanistan and help coach the defense by computer and phone.
It will be very, very early Saturday morning by Rector’s clock, as Afghanistan is eight and a half hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, but that’s a sacrifice that the longtime coach was willing to make to avoid missing another season.
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“I don’t like not being involved with it,” said Rector, the Warriors’ defensive coordinator since 2005. “I miss being engaged with the game and the other coaches and the kids, and I was not happy the last two times I was over and had to miss out.”
Rector’s first overseas deployment came in 2009, and he was gone for the entire football season. A second deployment took him away from the action for all of the 2012 season and most of 2013.
So when he got called up again in January as part of a National Guard group tasked with training Afghan soldiers, Rector and Whiteland head coach Darrin Fisher began discussing possible options.
“Fisher started coming up with the idea of, ‘Well, he can still break down film,'” Whiteland athletic director Ken Sears said. “With our Hudl (website), we can just send it over there, he’ll get it, he can look at it and tell us what to do, so he’ll still be involved.”
From there, the discussions evolved, and the school began exploring ways for Rector, a Franklin College graduate who has been a social studies teacher at the high school since 2002, to be involved in real time on game nights — when his family will be in the stands but he’s on the other side of the world.
This Friday’s scrimmage offers the first chance to see how well it will all work. An initial test run during the Warriors’ open practice last week was largely successful, with Rector watching a live video feed of the field via Skype and communicating with the booth through a FaceTime Audio call with fellow assistant Ziggy Meluskey.
The staff figured out during the test run that doing the audio and video separately helps reduce the lag time so that Rector’s video feed is only about three seconds behind.
“It’s about what I expected the first night,” Meluskey said of the initial live run-through. “Obviously, there’s always little kinks the first time you run through something. We’re probably going to use a cellphone for the audio and then use the Skype (video) with the iPad. When you do both at one time, it seems to be a little bit more delay.”
“It was more the quality of the field and the actual video feed that he was going to be able to see — how good was it? And it seems to be pretty good; he said he can see everything really well.”
When the regular season begins Aug. 18, Whiteland hopes to have a speakerphone set up in the booth that will enable either Meluskey or Sears — the two coaches who will communicate directly with Rector by phone — to put a headset microphone up to the speaker and allow Rector to relay his observations directly to the coaches on the sideline.
“We think we’ve got a pretty good idea we can get a lot done,” Rector said. “The goal is for it to be as if I was in the press box.”
That goal is entirely reachable thanks to the technological advances that have been made since the last time Rector was serving overseas. Use of iPads on the sideline was first allowed by the IHSAA in 2013, and in the years since, the devices have become an increasingly integral part of how coaches communicate with their players and with one another.
Offensive and defensive units can come off the field and watch replays of their last series, and the coaches can make adjustments on the fly.
Even if they’re 7,000 miles away.
“When you’ve got one of the best defensive coordinators in the state, and he’s not in the state right now, you’ve got to get out of him what you can,” said Whiteland assistant Tom Carpenter, who is serving as the team’s defensive coordinator while Rector is away and has done much of the technological setup.
“It’s amazing that he is however many miles away on the other side of the world, and we can have a conversation like we’re sitting in the same room.”
The only real drawback on Rector’s end is the time difference — on his clock, the team’s weekly staff meetings are at 4:30 a.m. on Sundays, and games start even earlier.
But that difference actually works to the advantage of the coaching staff in some ways. When games end on Friday night here, it’s still Saturday morning in Afghanistan — so Rector can get right to work.
“When I’m doing film breakdown and stuff, it’s when everyone back in Indiana is asleep,” he said. “So they get up in the morning and my stuff’s already done.”
Time isn’t as much of an issue with much of the other weekly prep work; Rector is still able to do his advance scouting work and put together the Warriors’ defensive practice plans and game scripts during his down time.
He still loses sleep on game day, but Rector would much rather be tired than not involved.
“It’s a small price to pay for being able to still be engaged with it,” he said. “You’ve got these kids that you’ve worked with since they were barely taller than your knee in our elementary camps and everything, and that senior year’s pretty special.”
“If you can help those kids out and still be involved in that process — you can always sleep later.”