TAMPA — His strapping, 6-foot-4 body had slithered through the collegiate cracks. When Robinson High School’s 12-2 season ended in early December, outside linebacker Justin Madison had exactly one scholarship offer to show for his breakthrough senior year.
At 205 pounds dispersed over a rangy frame, Madison had the physical upside (size 14 shoe), stats (63 tackles, team-best eight sacks), grades (4.1 weighted GPA), even the character (Robinson’s student government president). What he woefully lacked was buzz.
Madison had played only three games as a junior before spraining a left knee ligament. The son of 6-foot-9 FSU basketball alumnus Corey Louis, he harbored aspirations of a hoops career, and therefore bypassed all of spring football, the summer camp circuit and August drills prior to his senior season.
And two months shy of national signing day, Madison — to swipe from the basketball vernacular — seemed boxed out. The commitment lists of most Division I programs had long since swelled. Time wasn’t on his side.
Technology was. Madison received late offers from Miami, Wake Forest and Iowa State — among one or two others — and committed to the Cyclones on Monday.
Retired Knights coach Mike DePue’s explanation: “He’s a product of Hudl.”
Turned out, a little computer savvy and software — namely, Hudl — was all Madison needed to burst onto the recruiting radar. With literally a few mouse clicks and keystrokes, Madison and his coaches were able to produce a clean, concise highlight video and disseminate it to dozens of college coaches.
“I think that made most of the difference,” said Madison, who was raised by his mother, a licensed foster caregiver.
“I was able to send that film out. It was easy for (coaches) to just look me up that easily, and …a lot of the coaches said as soon as they saw it they were really blown away by how much I wasn’t getting looked at at the time.”
Had Madison been born a half-decade earlier, he still may be trying to shed obscurity.
In that bygone era, coaches had to dissect film on one program, download it to a media player, pray it configured from program to player, then perhaps burn it onto a DVD and slip it inside a manila envelope for mailing.
But with innovative new programs such as Hudl — a Web-based, interactive video editing system headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. — the meticulous, time-consuming steps are obsolete.
And the cracks through which players such as Madison may otherwise have slipped are being sealed.
“It’s amazing how much it has sped along the process,” said Chris Nee, Tallahassee-based recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “Used to be, you’d go to YouTube and find a video, or go to some third-party website. Hudl’s kind of streamlined it all.”
In the case of Hudl, coaches and their kids can download game video, easily produce highlight videos and trade game film with opponents — all from their own desktops or laptops. Perhaps most importantly, they can share a video with a college coach three time zones away as easily as sending an email.
“Hudl is something that has morphed recruiting into a whole new animal,” DePue said.
Coaches who pay the annual subscription fee (packages range from $29 a month to $3,000 annually) can grant access to the system to as many of their kids and staff members as they wish for no extra charge.
They can even monitor how long their players spend on the system. For the most proficient users, that time can be measured in minutes.
When asked how long he’d need to make another short highlight video on the spot, Madison said “a good two minutes.”
“It’s night and day,” said Armwood offensive coordinator Evan Davis, whose staff just wrapped up its first season as Hudl subscribers.
“I sent out 30 emails just last night for five kids — 30 emails for each kid — and it took me an hour.”
Not that anyone’s suggesting even the sleekest software can smooth over every proverbial pothole on the recruiting trail.
The universal consensus is, there’s still no substitute for seeing a player in person. What’s more, the less discriminate users can exaggerate the data (such as 40 times, GPAs) embedded into a video. And no one has mastered the art of gauging a kid’s character on a game film.
In Madison’s case, the accessibility to Hudl hastened the process of getting eyeballs on his physical skills. Only through follow-up phone calls and visits were coaches exposed to his broad smile, assertive handshake and engaging politeness.
“Once they came in and started to speak to me, they got a character standpoint from me and they started communicating with different coaches and what not,” he said. “I think just a little buzz started to come about it.”
As 21st-century technology forges ahead, the buzz can be generated at a breakneck pace.
“It’s very simple and that’s a good thing,” Nee said of Hudl. “Simple is a very good thing when it comes to recruiting.”
See Madison in action
Watch Justin Madison's football higlights on Hudl here.
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.