Gone are the days in which college football recruits only have one way to publicize their decisions: by selecting a hat while seated in front of a television camera. Those scenes are still common, and the signing of a national letter-of-intent remains an important visual of the recruiting process. But now recruits also cater to audiences online, not just sharing their final decisions but publicly narrowing their top candidates throughout the process.
“When they’re announcing something this big, they want to do it with style," said Vlosky, 32, who makes the graphics under the alias Geaux Edits.
The aim of the images, known as edits, is to stand out from the typical array of announcements posted on Twitter — perhaps a picture of a school’s stadium taken from a Google search, accompanied by a screenshot of an iPhone note explaining the choice, thanking coaches and declaring that there will be no interviews at this time.
“It’s a form of art, and it lets us express ourselves and the decisions we’ve made instead of us typing a long paragraph,” said Richmond-area recruit Ali Jennings, who noted how some high schoolers still like to attach the note that’s become synonymous with recruiting announcements.
The process is straightforward. Recruits usually find designers on Twitter. They might tweet that they plan to announce their top schools, and potential designers reach out to them. Most designers don’t charge players for the service, but they will publicize their work by adding a watermark to the image or asking the high schooler to tag them in the post.
“It’s usually short-notice kind of deal,” Justin Schoenemann, a freshman at Texas A&M who has made recruiting edits for three years, said last Thursday. “I’ll probably start getting busy in the next couple days.”
Thanks to Twitter, anyone can make an edit, so not all are high quality. Plus, many people with these skills have been scooped up by college athletic departments, who are also fighting for eyes of recruits and fans.
Josh Nee, 33, works as an art director at an audio company. He’s a college football fan who started working on edits earlier this year after seeing some posted by recruits and thinking he could do it better. Nee does freelance work for a few athletic departments, but he continues to make elaborate graphics for recruits, including a GIF for Jennings that flashes through his top schools and a photoshopped picture of a cellphone showing a player’s top eight programs as the favorites on a contact list.
“When I started in March, basically anybody that messaged me, I would say yes,” Nee said. But now, “I’ve got probably 600 unanswered DMs on Twitter. It’s insane. I can’t get to everybody.”
Limited by time and work, Nee has to be selective, choosing only to make graphics for players he’s familiar with or blue-chippers whose decisions are highly visible.
In exchange for the graphic, recruits take a risk. Some players specifically ask designers not to share their news before they do. Vlosky assures them that “everything stays within the direct message.”
“Usually, when you reach out to people like him, they’re so professional with it that I don’t even have to worry about them,” said Goode, the defensive end from the District. “I’m able to trust them without even asking.”
Goode, who played at St. John’s and enrolled at Virginia Tech in June before he was released by the school, points out that the trust factor works both ways: If a designer spoils their surprise, nobody else is going to ask for one.
“Recruiting is their big moment,” Nee said. “It’s the biggest, public-facing moment of their life. I think ruining that for a kid is a terrible thing to do.”
Most top-tier college programs have digital media departments, engaging in a creative arms race of sorts. In recruiting, schools cater to this demographic; Utah posted a Fortnite-themed video earlier this year. All the time, recruits receive edits from schools to post to personal social media accounts, whether it’s for an official visit or an offer. The high schoolers are frequently given official material that can be used for their signing day announcement on social media.
Even as recruits are flooded with the work made by full-time professionals at universities, the unaffiliated designers on Twitter still have their niche. That’s one of the only ways high schoolers can receive graphics that show many schools as their final options. Sometimes, Nee said, they just want to be different, rather than posting something likely created from a school template.
The more a tweet gets shared, the more coaches and fans see it. Siaki Ika, a four-star defensive lineman from Salt Lake City who recently posted a graphic of his top five schools made by Vlosky, called the digital hoopla a “subtle way to be flashy.” Nathan Pickering, a four-star defensive lineman from Mississippi, ended up posting three different graphics by different designers to show his top 10 schools. He said, “It helps promote my brand.”
After all, it’s a celebration, an image that showcases a goal obtained. And then, well, Ika added: “They just look cool, right?”