Penn State offensive line coach Herb Hand’s tweet about dropping a high school football recruit from his want list in early August received over 4,000 retweets. Newspaper reporters, high school coaches and teachers, and other prep prospects hurriedly spread the message around the Twitterverse, that posting the wrong things on the service can slam the brakes on a promising career.
But it really wasn’t news. People post inappropriate material on Twitter all the time, and recruits quietly get erased from college recruiting lists for that very reason. As popular as Twitter has become since its creation in 2006, the teaching of how to use it properly, safely and appropriately hasn’t kept up.
“Today, it seems like kids are almost living through social media,” said Appalachian State offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who recruits the York County area for the Mountaineers’ football program. “They’re putting everything they’re doing out there on Twitter for everybody to see. It gives us a great opportunity to evaluate kids also. It’s a great tool for us.”
High school football programs are using Twitter as well. Chester assistant football coach Jamal Sanders runs the Cyclones’ Twitter page. He recently tweeted a series of photos from an unofficial recruiting visit that several Chester players took to Georgia Southern University.
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“My goal is to use Twitter effectively in order to promote the football program in a positive light, to use it effectively to benefit the kids,” said Sanders, who learned how to use Twitter during a graduate course at Winthrop.
No football program in the area uses Twitter more than Northwestern. The Trojans have a unique Twitter account for every position group and they use the social media service to communicate with their players, as well as monitor their behavior. Not all of the players have email accounts and they change their cell phones (and numbers) enough that Twitter has become the most reliable way of communicating with them.
Twitter has become so central to Northwestern’s football communication that when players reported this year, they not only had to visit a station where they wrote down their contact information to give to their position coach, but they also had to visit a Twitter station where they listed their Twitter handle, or signed up for one on the spot if they didn’t already have one.
“Obviously, their Twitter pages aren’t perfect,” Trojans coach Kyle Richardson said with a chuckle. “But we do make an effort as a staff to do better, and for the most part they have.”
Sanders said the Chester coaching staff mentions social media at least once a week during position group meetings, while Richardson closes nearly every practice with a reminder to be careful on social media. There’s another benefit to looking over players’ tweeting from time-to-time.
“It’s a good way to monitor kind of how they’re feeling,” said Richardson. “You’d be surprised by the stuff you find out about them that’s going on in their head or at home. If they’re having a bad day or a good day, or whatever.”
One Trojan who got the message is Northwestern senior Dupree Hart. The star slot receiver is often inimitable on the football field, but his Twitter use sets a good example for other teenagers. His personal Twitter guidelines are simple.
“With Twitter I try to stay away from stuff that shouldn’t be on there for all of my followers to see, that I know a lot of college coaches don’t want to see,” Hart said.
The thing is, college coaches like Hand and Ledford do want to see what kids are posting on Twitter, for better or worse.
As of July 15, Ledford and the rest of the Appalachian State staff had completed over 2,800 evaluations of high school football players in the 2015 class. With such a huge heap of recruits to weed through, repeated Twitter indiscretions become a reason to cross a name off the list. Out of those nearly 3,000 prospects, Ledford said Appalachian would sign probably 18 kids this coming year for the 2015 season.
“Whatever separates you from the other kids, that’s kind of what we’re looking for,” he said.
NCAA coaches are not limited in the amounts of direct messages they can send to recruits via Twitter and Facebook, which is one reason guys like Ledford have so avidly taken to mediums.
“Those kids, they’ve got to understand that your Twitter is seen by thousands of followers,” said Ledford. “You’re representing yourself and selling your brand. So that’s the whole thing; what are you selling when you put yourself out on Twitter?”