Growth of social media shapes recruiting landscape in high school sports


Centreville two-time All-Met defensive end Ken Ekanem is insistent his online postings remain private. He holds nearly 20 scholarship offers. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
January 30, 2012

The growth of social media continues to shape the college recruiting landscape. As more high school athletes turn to Facebook and Twitter to update their status — whether about official campus visits or what movie they’re going to — more college coaches are keeping a close watch. And with national signing day Wednesday, at least one top football recruit found comments posted on his Twitter feed cost him scholarship offers.

“It gives you a chance to see a little bit more about that young man that you’re recruiting,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said. “In terms of what is on his Facebook? If they twitter, what are they twittering? It’s good because you can find out a lot about an individual by following them on social media and taking a look at their Facebook page.”

Last month, highly rated recruit Yuri Wright from Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) had a scholarship offer yanked by Michigan after tweets on his personal account, many of which included derogatory language of a sexual or racial nature.

Not every school was scared away, however. Wright subsequently committed to Colorado.

Colleges reacting to athletes’ use of social media is not unprecedented. Northwestern’s women’s soccer team was suspended for pictures of hazing posted on the Internet in 2006. Former Robinson All-Met football player Lucas Caparelli was suspended from Wake Forest in 2008 for posting a violent message on his Facebook account.

But keeping watch over prospective recruits’ accounts is a new way for coaches to gain insights into potential players away from the field.

“There’s people that we felt by doing that, by watching and monitoring those kids, that they might not fit into the concept of what we’re doing here,” Edsall said. “Sometimes you’ll see something and let that person know, ‘Hey what you put on there you should think twice about that and how that’s making you look as a person or athlete before you do that.’ But there have been instances as you start to get into the recruiting process where you see certain things and they steer you away.”

At least a few area high school football coaches are taking a more proactive approach to the way they handle players’ use of Facebook and Twitter.

Some, like Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson, the 2009 All-Met Coach of the Year, said they now must become more educated about Twitter in order to better educate players on its dangers.

Last week, Quince Orchard held its first team meeting of 2012. In a packed classroom downstairs in the school, 2011 All-Met Coach of the Year Dave Mencarini closed the meeting by warning his players about their use of social media.

“I want to caution you,” Mencarini said, “About using Facebook and Twitter. . . . I want to caution you about what you say, how you say it and who you say it to.”

High school athletes have taken different approaches to their use of social media. Some accept any friend or follow requests, including those from fans of schools vying for their commitment. Others keep feeds private or have been careful not to tweet or post anything that may impact their recruiting process.

“Nothing goes on Facebook and Twitter, I made it private and don’t let any news reporters or coaches follow me,” said Centreville two-time All-Met defensive end Ken Ekanem, who holds nearly 20 scholarship offers. “In case something slips I don’t want to get called out for that. I don’t want them to get the wrong idea of me. I want to be aware. I don’t say anything vulgar, as he did, nothing bad’s going on, but I just don’t want anyone getting the wrong image of me.”

Briar Woods All-Met defensive back Alex Carter, a Stanford recruit, and Quince Orchard second-team All-Met junior linebacker Marcus Newby said they monitor what they say on Twitter, especially following the news of Wright’s expulsion.

Carter said his parents spoke with him about his use of Twitter long before this incident, especially as college coaches began to follow him. When news of Wright’s expulsion was circulated among high school athletes, Carter tweeted back and forth with another national recruit about making his account private. He said last week he wasn’t sure if the punishment was necessary.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Carter said. “He’s a kid, that’s what kids do most of time. They don’t mean it all the time; it just kind of comes out. When the public gets a hold, it brings bad publicity to the school and he got in trouble like that. It’s a mistake and you have to learn from that kind of stuff.”

Mencarini emphasized during the meeting last week that he was not against the use of Twitter. He has his own active Twitter account. “I’m @QOCoach if you want to follow me,” he told his team, drawing laughs.

But the eighth-year coach said he believes kids are using social media without considering the consequences. He hopes that changes.

“It can make kids look foolish,” Mencarini said. “Your perception of someone can be tainted by not only what is said but how they say it. I have had coaches say, ‘This kid is always on Facebook or always on Twitter saying this or that.’ . . . It takes away from what it’s really about, but unfortunately it’s a part of the recruiting process.”

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