The newest member of Brebeuf Jesuit’s high school football team spent most of Sept. 5’s practice on the sideline, standing upright and silent. When called on, the 190-pound “Rudy” did his part, absorbing tackle after tackle from the Indianapolis team’s defense.
When practice was over, Rudy looked no worse for the wear. Brebeuf coach Mic Roessler picked up a remote control off the bench and followed Rudy into the Brebeuf coaches’ office in Indianapolis.
“He has a motor that won’t quit,” Roessler said.
“Rudy” will never catch a pass, make a tackle or score a touchdown, but could become one of Brebeuf’s most valuable players. The remote controlled tackling dummy is the brainchild of Dartmouth College engineers, designed to reduce injuries and simulate game situations.
The “mobile virtual player” comes along at a time when concussion awareness is at an all-time high at all levels of football. Seven NFL teams used the “MVP” last year and a growing number of professional and college teams are utilizing the technology this season. Last month, a video of a Baylor assistant coach defeating the robot in a race — and then getting flattened by it — went viral.
Brebeuf’s “Rudy” — they are still working on the name — arrived recently.
“The first day, everybody wanted at shot at it,” Roessler said. “It was helpful for kickoff and kickoff return because you can go all-out on it. We’re still figuring out all the ways we can utilize it, but it’s another opportunity for us to avoid hitting each other. It’s like a new toy right now.”
The price of the machine, listed at $8,295 on the Rogers Athletic Co. website, might keep more high school teams from taking the plunge on their own version. A donation from Brebeuf’s parent group made the purchase possible. Last year, Brebeuf outfitted all of its helmets with the Riddell Insite Impact Response system to better measure the severity of hits to the head.
“Our concussions are way down, and I’d like to think it’s because we’re doing it the right way,” Roessler said. “Football has taken a hit and people are nervous about it. To me, this is another step in the right direction of making the game more self-contained.”
The “MVP” appears to be on its way to becoming the next wave in football safety. Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin told The Associated Press last season that it is “an awesome piece of technology.” The idea started in 2013 with Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens, who had banned live tackling in his practices a few years earlier. The Ivy League banned tackling in regular-season practices in 2016.
Elliot Kastner, a former Dartmouth lineman, teamed up with three other Dartmouth engineering students to develop the MVP, which the Dartmouth football team began using at practices two years ago.
“It gives us a real simulation in practice without putting each other in harm’s way,” said Brebeuf junior safety Simon Banks. “We don’t have to back off our tackling drills this way. I like having it in the backfield so we can come down full speed without hitting one of your own guys and potentially knocking somebody out.”
At practice Sept. 5, the Brebeuf defensive players tackled the MVP at an angle after getting off a blocker. A coach can move the tackling robot with a controller that is similar to one for a remote control car. The tackling robot can run a 40-yard dash in five seconds and can get to full speed (18 miles per hour) or stop on a dime at the push of a button.
“[Roessler] mentioned at the beginning of the summer we were going to get one of those dummies like NFL teams were using,” senior linebacker Dillon Howell said. “We were going crazy. Then we saw it zipping down the hallway last week and we’re like, ‘This thing is legit.’”
Because it arrived during the season, Roessler said it might be next summer before he fully understands how to best use the MVP during practice. In addition to tackling drills, he also has used it as a pass rusher during drills for his quarterbacks.
Howell has found that there is at least one distinct difference in tackling the dummy compared to a real player.
“You can’t read the hips or the eyes,” Howell said. “It’s just moving and the coach is holding the controller, laughing, making it cut back and forth. Some of the coaches definitely keep you on your toes with it.”
The battery is located at the base of the dummy and will last for about three hours. Another major difference in simulating “real” tackling is that the weight of the MVP is located at its base, while a human carries weight in its torso.
“Coaches are always reminding you to tackle low, so I think it would be a little easier if there was a thinner torso on the dummy itself,” Banks said. “I think that would emphasize that we are tackling low. The way it is built now is kind of big and bulky at the bottom.”
Roessler said the more uses he can find for the robot, the better.
“I’m sure in the future we will get jerseys with the opposing team on it,” he said. “We probably haven’t totally embraced it yet because it’s so new. But we will. It’s a vital tool. We just have to get better at utilizing it.”
Roessler said he’s open to another name, too. This “Rudy” is slightly taller than the former 5-foot-6 Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger.
“The name makes sense, though,” Roessler said. “It keeps getting up after every tackle.”