So­cial me­dia has changed the re­cruit­ing game

The Norwalk Hour - - SPORTS - By Jim Fuller james.fuller @hearst­medi­act.com; @NHRJimFuller

STORRS — Nearly 15 years ago when Aaron Smith and Jon Whol­ley were UConn foot­ball team­mates, they never could have en­vi­sioned how the sport that has brought them such joy would be changed 140 or 280 char­ac­ters at a time.

Smith and Whol­ley were mem­bers of an 8-4 team that cul­mi­nated the 2004 sea­son by rolling past Toledo in the Mo­tor City Bowl. Around that time so­cial me­dia be­gan the trans­for­ma­tion from be­ing a nov­elty, es­pe­cially around col­lege foot­ball pro­grams, to be­com­ing a nec­es­sary form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“We’ve kind of grown up in it,” said Whol­ley, who has tweeted more than 8,000 times since 2012. “I re­mem­ber in col­lege when Face­book started, so it is a cool way to spread mes­sages and pos­i­tive en­ergy to­ward the pro­gram.”

UConn coach Randy Ed­sall has also got­ten into the act, post­ing in­spi­ra­tional quotes, the names of the game cap­tains and scout team play­ers of the week on Twit­ter. When UConn gets a com­mit­ment, he posts an im­age of the “Bat Sig­nal” on his Twit­ter feed.

Smith, the re­ceivers coach and re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor at UConn, isn’t nearly as pro­lific on Twit­ter as Whol­ley or even Ed­sall, but that doesn’t mean he can’t ap­pre­ci­ate the pos­i­tive im­pact of so­cial me­dia.

“I think it does a cou­ple of things, UConn foot­ball gets the name out there and it is how young peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate, they com­mu­ni­cate through the in­ter­net so that is how they are ac­ces­si­ble,” Smith said. “I en­joy see­ing Coach Whol­ley’s tweets about UConn foot­ball, it is just show­ing your per­son­al­ity a lit­tle bit and re­cruits have ac­cess to who you are as a per­son which is just as im­por­tant as who you are as a coach.”

When Corey Ed­sall, UConn’s tight ends coach, was in col­lege, Twit­ter be­came all the rage and it is used by col­lege pro­grams na­tion­wide to spread the word. So­cial me­dia has be­come such a part of the re­cruit­ing process that the NCAA deems it nec­es­sary to ad­just the rules of what is ac­cept­able seem­ingly on an an­nual ba­sis.

Not long ago it was a no no for a col­lege coach to have any sort of in­ter­ac­tion on Twit­ter, Face­book or In­sta­gram with a prospec­tive stu­dent ath­lete. But re­al­iz­ing that was a los­ing bat­tle, the NCAA rules were ad­justed to al­low coaches to re­act when a high school ath­lete posts on so­cial me­dia.

“It has com­pletely changed it,” Corey Ed­sall said. “When I was back in high school it was kind of the start of Twit­ter and all that kind of stuff. No one re­ally used it, but now you can pretty much get in touch with any­body. It is eas­ier to find guys be­cause pretty much ev­ery­body uses Twit­ter to post out stuff. It makes you go on your phone more which is frus­trat­ing at times, but it has com­pletely changed it into some­thing you def­i­nitely have to look at and fol­low.”

There is a down side to the so­cial me­dia craze, how­ever.

UConn has backed off of re­cruits who made some less than stel­lar de­ci­sions of what to post on so­cial me­dia.

“If the stuff that they are retweet­ing or say­ing which doesn’t align with what Coach (Randy Ed­sall) and the pro­gram stands for, we are not go­ing to mess with that,” Corey Ed­sall said. “You kind of see who they are in a sense and see what their likes are and what they are all about and it gives you kind of a pub­lic view of it.

“We talk about it all the time and say you guys have a right to say what you want but just know that what­ever you say is prob­a­bly go­ing to have some sort of re­ac­tion whether it is good or bad. They know they have to rep­re­sent them­selves, this pro­gram and ev­ery­body else the right way and it is some­thing we harp on with them all the time.”

So­cial me­dia has also made it more dif­fi­cult to keep un­der the radar prospects from be­ing no­ticed by some other pro­grams.

“There are very few se­crets out there be­cause 90 per­cent of th­ese kids are on Twit­ter,” Whol­ley said. “Once the kid gets a schol­ar­ship from UConn and (he posts that) he is blessed to be of­fered by UConn or blessed to be of­fered by ..., 30 other coaches look, watch his tape, find out if he is good and con­tact the kid. It short­ens the net­work.”

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn coach Randy Ed­sall uses so­cial me­dia to post in­spi­ra­tional quotes and the names of the game cap­tains among other things on his Twit­ter feed.

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