By Matt and Mike Vahey, Optimum Scouting
First, we wanted to give a little background on us and our football careers. While every football player’s dream is to get a scholarship and play big-time division 1 football, we eventually decided on Division 2 St. Anselm College (while we had interest from bigger programs, other personal and family factors led to this decision), in Manchester, NH. There, Mike started 8 games as a true freshman while Matt had a medical Redshirt. After our freshman season, for several reasons, we decided to transfer to Division 3 Plymouth State University, in Plymouth, NH.
At Plymouth, we both went on to start every game for the next three seasons. Matt at Left Tackle and Mike at Left Guard and Right Guard (they eventually had to separate us). Matt went on to earn 1st Team All-Conference his senior year, and Mike earned Honorable Mention honors. In addition, we both went on to earn Academic All-Conference each of our 3 years playing at Plymouth. During our three years at Plymouth State, our teams went to 2 ECAC bowl games (going 1 for 2), winning a conference title, and an NCAA Division 3 playoff appearance.
For the “Love of the game”
When we finished our playing careers after college, we got “adult” jobs and spent some time away from the game; but we always wondered “How we could continue to be involved in the game that was such a big part of our lives for 13 years?” We were always active in reading Scouts Inc., NFL Draft Scout, and Optimum Scouting. After seeing Optimum was looking for a few scouts to join the team, we said “Screw it, let’s give it a shot”.
After playing the game for so many years, what really provided us an edge of learning the art of scouting was the ability to understand and interpret the concepts and schemes teams are trying to run. Having this background and knowledge helped us with our learning curve to be able to scout players. There’s a lot of scouting done while you are a player that maybe the average fan does not really know about, including hours and hours of film. While in the film room, as an offensive lineman, we were watching tape of our opponents each week, looking at their two-deep roster on defense and looking at schemes, tendencies, alignments, strengths and weaknesses of each player, mostly in their front 7.
Through that weekly process, we would have our own scouting reports on each of the players and as a starting unit, we would be able to determine which players would need to be game planned more on, which players we could target, so on and so forth. On the other side of the ball, we would also do our analysis of the other team’s offense (as lineman we focused our attention to the line) to do research of how they did against our upcoming opponent, again looking at plays that worked, techniques that were successful, and so forth. While focusing our attention on the other team’s offense, we were able to see how they game planned and in the process evaluate how good their line was, and which players were successful and where the weakest links were for them as well.
Learning the Craft
The evaluation process for us had its ups and downs in year one. It was easy to evaluate o-line, d-line, linebackers and tight ends (to some degree). Where the learning curve for us was focused on more the positions where lineman didn’t necessarily game plan for. Positions like cornerback, or wide receiver. While scouting those skills positions, it wasn’t the basic fundamentals that were hard to evaluate, as having played the game so long you get a good feel for what works and doesn’t. What was difficult was determining a player’s responsibilities and making an evaluation in conjunction with that.
While we didn’t play running back, being a lineman and evaluating a RB was still not as difficult as it may seem, as knowing your own team’s running backs’ talents and responsibilities makes your job easier. You can evaluate on, say if they are running a zone play, understanding the running back’s responsibilities and technique to their track, ability to press the line and if they have the proper vision to read their blocks and make cuts off what they see. On the flip side of that, we can also see if they rely too much on their speed and try to beat everyone to the outside.
However, for the other positions (for example when it came to looking at wide receiver prospects), it was difficult to understand if they ran the wrong route or if they are running appropriately based upon the coverage and play call. So what we needed to focus on as evaluators was how to leverage what we knew on wide receivers and what we could tell based upon the film. Things like how well did they run the routes, did they catch the ball with their hands or with their body, were they able to separate or even block in the running game. These are all things we’re also developing as evaluators as we get to become more seasoned in scouting.
Making the Transition
Overall, the transition from player to evaluator, while there was a learning curve, was a little smoother than originally anticipated going into the scouting season. Having 13 years under our belts playing the game, we were really able to lean on our body of knowledge to be able to evaluate. One bit of criticism we put on ourselves, which we are focusing on for year 2 with Optimum Scouting, is to be a little more critical and not so lenient with the evaluations. In year one, we seemed to be more on the side of the player as we were in their shoes at one time and understand how difficult certain scenarios may be.
But at the end of the day understand that it’s an evaluation and players needed to be graded according to their abilities. Now that we have a year of what to expect, and having a great team to provide guidance for us, it’s very much like getting the first year of college ball under your belt. You know the system and how to improve, and what you can do to succeed.
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