Separated by 1,400 miles and two time zones, Northwestern football signees Terrance Brown and Stephen Buckley have become close friends. The two have known each other for a mere two weeks, and have never met in person.
Brown, a native of Los Alamitos, California, has a strong relationship with each of NU’s 20 other signees for 2012—many whom he have never encountered in person. The incoming class of Wildcats has utilized tools like Facebook and Twitter as a means for constant contact, and a way to build bonds.
“Everyone is fired up and excited to meet each other and start playing some football,” Terrance Brown said. “They all seem like great guys.”
The 21 members of Northwestern’s 2012 recruiting class have maintained collaboration using social media. Incoming safety Joseph Jones, who committed to NU in May, created a Facebook group for the then-expanding class. This forged an immediate connection between the recruits.
“Facebook is a great social network,” said cornerback Dwight White, who committed in July. “Anytime someone committed, they get added to the (Facebook) group. Someone will post a status and we put our input in. We say something to each other—we’re the class of 2012, we’re ready to make an impact at the next level. All the commits, we’re excited to get up there.”
Each time a prospect gave his verbal commitment to Northwestern, Jones was quick to send a Facebook friend request and build a relationship. When each recruit met at their official visits in Evanston, there was already an established bond, thanks to social media.
“Everyone got along really well, it’s just a really fun group of guys,” wide receiver Mike McHugh said. “I think we’re going to have a fun four or five years.”
Social media serves as a recruiting tool, as well. Joseph Jones was among the NU recruits who used Facebook to help draw uncommitted prospects. Four-star linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo was a Facebook friend with Jones and a number of other Wildcat commits.
As Northwestern’s class of 2012 grew larger with each verbal commitment, the recruit’s relationships grew stronger, forming a tight-knit group.
"You see no one decommitted, everyone’s excited to be a part of the family,” said Dwight White. “Everyone wants to be a part of something special."
Facebook and Twitter are used by coaches as a valuable recruiting tool. NCAA rules view social media differently than a phone call or text message, allowing more frequent contact within the NCAA rules.
College coaches maintain their own Facebook pages to communicate with prospects. A Facebook friend request from a college coach is a sign of recruiting interest.
“(Social media) allows you to develop a relationship with the young man when you’re not allowed to call him on the phone,” said NU recruiting coordinator Matt MacPherson, who uses his Facebook page for recruiting collaboration.
However, Facebook and Twitter have other purposes for coaches.
Today’s blue-chippers live in “The Digital Generation,” where one can instantly post whatever thought comes to mind. The constant, immediate interaction can be used in a positive way, but mishandling of such tools can have an adverse impact.
Yuri Wright, a four-star cornerback, had his scholarship offer to Michigan removed due to inappropriate posting on Twitter. Wright used racially and sexually offensive language on his public account, which was spotted by Michigan coaches.
“Now with social media, kids are not very bright at times,” Pat Fitzgerald said when asked about social media use during his Signing Day press conference. “They’ll put things on Twitter or put things on Facebook and you really question what they heck are they thinking. The awareness level of this generation, sometimes, I question. I really question what they’re thinking and why they think it’s appropriate to put some of those things out there.”
Before Fitzgerald begins to evaluate a recruit’s on-field skills, he uses Facebook, Twitter, and in-person discussions to gauge the kid’s character.
Social media can expose off-the-field problems. Fitzgerald is worried about that, first.
“I’m held accountable, our staff, our program is held accountable, our university is held accountable for (player’s) actions,” Fitzgerald said. “Not some of the time on campus, but all of the time on campus. It’s a bigger problem than whether they can run, catch, throw, tackle, or block.”
As technology continues to evolve, the recruiting world changes. Social media gives college coaches an edge—within the NCAA rules—which was not available till recently. Recruits are now able to network and build relationships without ever meeting in person.
Facebook and Twitter can be a blessing or a curse; it just depends on its users and their decisions.