COLUMBUS: Not so long ago, college football players with time on their hands would pick up an Xbox game controller.
Now, instead of playing a simulated college or pro game, Ohio State's players most likely reach for their iPad — and a scouting report on their real upcoming opponent.
"That's something guys utilize a lot now," Buckeyes starting right tackle Reid Fragel said. "Whether we're just bored, have some down time, whatever. It's something that we can just pull out and they send us the practice film and the game film within hours after we're done, so it's up and we have easy access to it. It's great."
Each Buckeye has an iPad that allows him to watch clips personally tailored for him and his position, both from the last Ohio State game or practice, as well as to preview an upcoming opponent. The coaches are able to draw up specific plays and emphasize techniques and talking points that are sent to their position groups. There are breakdowns by down and distance, personnel and other game data.
The iPads were provided free as loaners this fall to all 1,100 or so Ohio State student-athletes. The university's intention was to enhance tutoring and mentoring services, but the tablets have become a valuable coaching and communication tool for the 14th-ranked Buckeyes.
It's a far cry from the days when coach Woody Hayes spent hour after hour reversing a clattering film projector while ghostly images of football players in black and white flickered on the wall of his cramped coaching office.
"When I'm not in here (at the team's practice facility), if I'm just sitting at home, I'll look at some of the film on the iPad," freshman tight end Nick Vannett said. "It gives you more time to study the film and be more prepared for the opponent."
The iPads are ideal for coaches who want to pinpoint a message to a player or to dispel all the idle talk bombarding the Buckeyes about the team they'll face next, in this case Saturday's opponent, Central Florida.
"To say that we don't have a lot of respect for Central Florida would be nonsense," coach Urban Meyer said. "The good thing is nowadays our players have already seen film so they have a touch of what's going on with all these iPads floating around here. They have plenty of film to watch."
For the past few years, the players could take home DVDs that had clips and films and cut-ups on them.
Now many players also carry the ubiquitous iPhone. Yes, there's an app for that. They can get game films, clips, emails, texts and pictures sent to that platform as well.
Just 90 minutes after Ohio State's 56-10 season-opening victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, the game video was sent to the players and they could watch it without commercial interruption and with pertinent replays.
A blown assignment on that third and 1? A coach can point out what went wrong and how to correct it.
An encouraging word to a player who is down about his lack of playing time? Here comes a quick note showing a highlight and a compliment to reassure him he's still a valued member of the team.
By the time the players awaken on Sunday, video from UCF's 56-14 win over Akron has been sent to them, with emphasis added on trick plays, what the Knights do on short yardage and their blocking schemes on special teams.
Fragel, a converted tight end, wants to take advantage of any intel he can get that will help him.
"I just wanted to look at a couple of things, so I was able to pull up my iPad. That was pretty neat," he said. "It's the whole (UCF) game. Then they also have cut-ups of blitz packages, different looks on defense and stuff like that."
Ohio State's athletic department invested $400,000 so that more than 1,000 athletes would receive the iPads over the next two years. They are also used for academic purposes.
Not everyone embraces the newest technology at Ohio State — or elsewhere in the college ranks or even in the NFL.
"There's some old-school guys," said Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls in 14 years in the NFL. "No, I did not have the iPad. We'd take computers home and watch it on that."
Ohio State co-captain and starting defensive end John Simon prefers the old-fashioned way, watching film on a screen while taking notes. But most of his teammates are quick to embrace the cutting-edge approach.
"We have some guys who are the new-age tech guys that like to have the iPad and go home and work on it and find all the nuances and see the picture on the screen and then go ahead and play the video right behind it," Vrabel said. "I think it works both ways. I don't think the old-school film-and-paper game plan is going to give way to the iPad, but it's certainly going to enhance our preparation."
Most college teams do just fine with the old way — including Central Florida.
"No, we don't get into that stuff. We keep it old school," safety Kemal Ishmael said. "We just use our film room and everything that's available to us. Coach (George) O'Leary and the coaching staff do a great job getting us ready and prepared. So we'll just keep working with what we have."
In an era of handhelds, from smartphones to tablets to every other form of link to the Web, it was only natural that technology would make advances in the sport of Heisman, Stagg and Lombardi.
"No doubt it's helped us," Fragel said. "You can carry your iPad, and iPhone and you can load up film. It's a lot easier access. You don't have to drive to the (practice facility). Wherever you're at — if you're home or somewhere else — you can just pull it up on your phone."
Associated Press Writer Kyle Hightower contributed from Orlando, Fla.