Users wear a wireless headset so there is freedom of movement during the simulation. Courtesy Sports VTS and Homeland Photography

Maybe you don’t need a team to play the game of football.

Sports VTS, a local technology company, is giving quarterbacks the opportunity to play the game using mixed reality football simulators.

The simulator allows the athletes to physically throw the football and react to virtual reality game plays.

“You have a headset on, a wireless headset, so you have the freedom of movement,” said Mike Wagel, CEO of Sports VTS. “You have a real football, so you are able to throw the ball and all of that is being captured in real time and projected into the virtual reality world instantaneously. You can find yourself on the turf of your favorite team and out there playing in what feels like a very immersive environment.

“As you are playing quarterback, you are taking the snap and there are big guys in front of you and you have a pass rush coming at you. You are trying to avoid the rush and find a lane to throw the ball and complete it downfield. You can complete full drives or run a two-minute drills.”

Ted Sundquist, founder and president of Sports VTS is a two-time Super Bowl winner and former general manager of the Denver Broncos. While the virtual format is fun, he said, there also is a teaching element to it that can develop young players. Sports VTS can collect data as plays are being made. There is a playbook available. The simulator has motion tracking cameras, it can tell the player how many plays he or she has completed in a drive and the velocity with which the football is being thrown, among other things.

While it is good for leisure and developing players, Sundquist said he received some feedback early in the development process of including an element for assisting athletes with rehabilitation.

“They said, ‘This would be fantastic to be able to take readings, collect data and to be able to truly know that he is moving at full speed and reacting to football movements at full speed but in virtual reality simulation, and yet still not be at risk for injury.’

“Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. You have these sports trainers who are out there, and they have these players and they are trying to get their players back on the field as quickly as they possibly can, and sometimes that is really difficult to know when that is. The player may be telling you that ‘I feel great. I am fine. My ankles feel good. My knee is fantastic, just let me back in there,’ and you put them back in for one play and again with all that dynamic movement and bodies flying around, they are at risk of reinjuring themselves or even creating another injury as a result of not being 100% full speed based on their old injury.”

With many sports games and practices canceled due to the pandemic, Wagel said the demand has gone up because it is challenging to train individuals in a team sport. 

“It is hard to train one of 11 or 22 guys in a way that is safe,” he said. “(Sports VTS) gives you just that, to be in an environment where you train as an individual but still get a full team experience.”

Sundquist said he believes there might be a change in the landscape of the game going forward.

“COVID will end for all of us at some point, but I think COVID has changed just about every business and industry out there and sports is no different,” he said. “I think teams now, whether professional, collegiate or even at the high school with dads and moms who are interested in trying to get their sons opportunity at the next level, are going to look for these ‘isolation training opportunities’ and it is just going to become part of the game. You are going to find a lot of players, instead of coming together as a group, try to find opportunities that may be closer to home. Many of them do that already, but I just think there is going to be an over-emphasis on ‘what I can do to get prepared over the course of an offseason at a high level, without having to travel, without having to be around a bunch of guys who come in from different places around the country.’

“This thought came about pre-COVID, and COVID, I think, just emphasized it and now we are coming out of it. COVID will not be the primary focus, but certainly, I think figuring out a new way to train will be and we are well ahead of that I think.”