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Whiteland defensive coordinator using technology to coach football from Afghanistan

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WHITELAND, Ind. - As Whiteland High School opens their football season against New Palestine Friday night, the Warriors’ defensive coordinator will be calling schemes and making adjustments from half a world away.

Whiteland defensive coordinator Dan Rector is currently deployed in Afghanistan with the Indiana Army National Guard. He’s serving as a Field Artillery Captain in Northern Afghanistan, helping to train the Afghan National Army. But on this, his third deployment, Rector says there’s no way he’s missing another football season at Whiteland High School.

“We work with these kids from the time they’re 1st and 2nd graders in camps and our Bantam league all the way through,” Rector said during a FaceTime interview. “To not be part of their senior year is something I didn’t want to do.”

After learning of his latest deployment at the end of last season, Rector and the rest of the staff at Whiteland started working on a plan to keep Rector involved in the 2017 season. Modern technology makes that possible though applications like Huddle and cloud sharing.

“All of our video is on the cloud now,” said Whiteland head coach, Darrin Fisher. “Everything can be accessed from anywhere at any time mobily or on a laptop or anything else.”

“And then of course with game planning, through Huddle, I can still draw up the scout cards, I can put power point presentations with schemes and game planning for the next week,” Rector said.

But during video calls over Skype and FaceTime, the staff realized Rector’s internet connection at his base is fast enough to make live, real time video possible  The video delay was only one or two seconds long.

“How interactive can he be on a game day,” Fisher asked. “Can he be like a coach in the press box?”

A test during last week’s scrimmage revealed that it was possible for Rector to be directly involved during games and practices in real time.

“At first, we thought he could be involved series by series, making adjustments,” Fisher said. "But now it seems he’s involved play by play. So, it’s been better than we expected.”

“The goal is for this to make this work as if I was sitting in the press box,” Rector said. “And we’re not too far off of that right now.”

When the Warriors take the field on Friday nights this season, Rector will be connected via Skype up in the press box so he can see the action on the field. He’ll also be connected via FaceTime Audio down on the sideline so he can talk directly to players and other coaches.

Senior defensive back Tanner Mylam says talking to coach Rector on a phone or tablet isn’t exactly the same as having him on the field during practice, but it gets the job done.

“To me, that’s awesome,” said Mylam. “That just shows what type of man and what type of person he is just to be engaged with us like that.”

“It just seemed to make sense to us,” Rector said. “If you want something bad enough, you start thinking of ways that you can make it work.”

One challenge to the situation is the roughly eight-hour time difference between central Indiana and northern Afghanistan. Rector will wake up at 3 a.m. for Friday night games, and 4:30 a.m. for Sunday coaches meetings.

“It shows how much he cares about us,” Mylam said. “Not just in football, just us as men and how he wants us to succeed.”

Fisher says he would much rather have Rector at games and practices in person, but having him coach from 7,000 miles away is better than not at all.

“At least we have half of him here, let’s put it that way,” Fisher said.

“I’m just really appreciative of coach Fisher and our administration for everything they’ve done to make this possible,” Rector said. “I think everybody will think it’s pretty cool as long as we’re winning ballgames.”