Platforms such as Twitter and Instagram loom large over the world of college recruiting. It's where players announce where they will play, and where coaches keep careful track of who they recruit.
Connor Wedington was nearing the end of a wild snowboard run at Snoqualmie when he took off on a jump, and visible on the bottom of the board was “Stanford Cardinal.”
That Bleacher Report-produced video, watched 420,000 times, was how the Sumner High School running back announced his commitment to Stanford in 2017.
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A year earlier, Deontay Anderson from Texas made national news when he announced his commitment to Ole Miss while skydiving.
But neither had a message from Sylvester Stallone like Eastside Catholic star Gee Scott Jr. had in his video when the receiver announced on Christmas he was committing to Ohio State. Touchdown, Scott.
It’s all part of the social-media revolution when it comes to football prospects and the colleges that are trying to land them. Commits used to become public only when a coach leaked the news to the media, or a reporter broke the news after tracking down a recruit. But that is so last century, long before recruits broke the news themselves via Twitter or Instagram.
Sure, some college football coaches might not like social media, but it’s either embrace it or get left behind.
Prospects chronicle their recruiting trips and offers on Twitter or Instagram, while the colleges “like” and share the athletes’ posts. Some college football programs have social-media departments, and almost all monitor prospects’ posts.
UW coach Chris Petersen tweets “Woof” each time a player commits to Washington, and all big-time schools are active on signing day, posting slick graphics on each player who signs.
It’s a world Damon Huard could not have contemplated in 1990, when he was a high-school All-American quarterback at Puyallup. His son Sam, a sophomore quarterback at Kennedy Catholic, is one of the top national prospects in his class and committed to Washington, just as his father did.
“I don’t remember committing,” Damon Huard said. “I remember the newspaper coming to the house, the day I signed, and that was kind of a big deal, but the day I committed I don’t even know if that was a story.”
Sam Huard, who has about 1,800 Twitter followers and is also on Instagram, has a pinned tweet announcing his commitment to UW, with a short statement thanking God, his family and his coaches.
Scott spent a lot of time preparing his commitment video with the help of a videographer in Oregon. The idea was Scott’s.
Scott said the Stallone message was procured through connections of his father, Gee Scott Sr., a motivational speaker and formerly a co-host of a radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle.
Scott Jr. has 4,854 Twitter followers and 11,200 followers on Instagram, and his commitment video has been liked close to 10,000 times between the two.
“The best thing about social media is it’s a really good platform,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. If you have a lot of followers on any social media, that’s just a bigger platform for you to stand on to convey your message or whatever message you have for the world. You just have a broader audience that gets to see your message.”
The video opens with Scott in a dimly lit weight room, saying, “legacy to me is waking up early every morning with a chip on my shoulder,” and wanting to be great, working out even at “times when I just feel like sleeping in.”
It ends with, “Legacy is committing to The Ohio State University.”
His message is resonating.
The enthusiastic comments — even some from people who identified themselves as UW fans — were directed at Scott and at the video.
The methods players use to announce their commitments continue to evolve. It was novel in 1989 when Jessie Armstead from Dallas lined up hats at a news conference and selected the one with Miami on it. Washington State football coach Mike Leach was never a big fan of that shtick, which you still see on ESPN on signing day.
“I think the worst is when they used to line the hats — when they sat at the table and lined the hats,” Leach said. “I thought that was crazy, and I am still against those.”
Leach has no problem with creative celebrations, particularly on signing day, and he said social media has some advantages for college coaches.
“The good thing is you can get word to them right away, and so I think there is better communication,” he said. “And these guys are able to somewhat make their minds up a little quicker. So I think that part is good.”
But there are also some drawbacks.
“I think for some of these kids, they get to read and see how great they are all day, every day,” said Damon Huard, a radio analyst on UW football broadcasts. “I don’t know how that information can be good at a young age.”
His message to his son Sam:
“I told him to stay off it, as much as you can,” Damon said. “It’s not going to make you a better quarterback. That’s a reality.”
Said Leach: “It’s easy for these guys to get obsessed and sidetracked by social media. Now, there is no shortage of information. There is too much information, and discerning what is reliable is always a challenge.”
Brock Huard, a younger brother of Damon, was Gatorade National Player of the Year at Puyallup High School in 1994-95 before playing at UW and in the NFL. He was stumped when asked how engaged he would have been with social media if it had been around when he was being recruited.
On one hand, he did not like to be showy, eschewing the honorary patches that stars often wore on their letterman’s jackets. However, he wrote a recurring journal for USA Today during his senior year, recounting not only the recruiting process but also aspects of his social life. In essence, a print version of today’s social media.
“I did share my personal stuff, even going to the homecoming dance,” said Huard, co-host of the “Brock & Salk” morning radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle and a TV analyst for college football games on ESPN. “But I felt like that was totally controllable. I could write it, send it and it was done. I think I would really have to fight the feeling of being inundated with it and it being overwhelming. I don’t know how I would navigate it today. For me, I could really control that message. There were no responses, there was no feedback. It was not overwhelming like so much of the social media is today for these kids to navigate.”
Huard’s daughter Haley is a budding basketball star at Eastlake High School and has a Twitter account. Brock said he and his wife, Molly, who played basketball at UW, have given their daughter advice.
“Our counsel and advice are to remember what you put out there is not going anywhere,” Brock said. “So you have to feel good about and comfortable with (what you post), and be willing to live with the consequences that come with that.”
Leach said he has been known to change his mind on prospects based on what they post.
“We’ve actually eliminated some as a result,” he said. “This was a while back, but all of a sudden you could tell a guy is a gang guy.”
Tom Bainter, football coach at Bothell High School for 19 years, said social media has reduced a high-school coach’s role as an intermediary in the recruiting process, with players interacting more directly with college coaches.
“As a coach I like to be a part of it,” he said. “The Division I scholarships are easy, but when you get into the Division IIs and the NAIAs, how much is it? When a kid hears ‘scholarship’ what does that really mean? Is it tuition? It is books? Is it room and board? My son has gotten an offer from Southwest Minnesota State and I am asking him all the questions after he spoke with the coach for an hour, and he can’t answer them.”
Bainter has had several big-time recruits in recent years, including UW freshman quarterback Jacob Sirmon, who committed to Washington as a sophomore.
“I just tell them social media is permanent, and that whatever you say, you can’t take back,” Bainter said. “And I’ve talked about being humble and thankful. Jacob had to be careful because when he got offers (after he committed to UW), he would post, ‘Blessed to have gotten an offer from ….’ Well you are already committed, and if I am the UW coach, and I am seeing that, then that means you’re still taking on other offers and maybe I should be looking at another quarterback.
“I think the early (commitment) guys, you have to be careful what the perception is to the people you’ve committed to. If you are committed, be all in. So that was my advice. And other than that, be very humble.”
That isn’t always easy in today’s age. Brock Huard has another piece of advice:
“I would just say be genuine with who you are in the entire recruiting process,” he said. “That was something that my mom and dad implored on me, that you’ve got to be honest, you have to be upfront with these coaches, as hard as it is at 18. So to be as honest as you can and not lead people along would probably be some of the better advice and counsel I can give to any of these kids.”
One thing is certain: Social media is not going away in the recruiting process. It will only continue to evolve.
“I don’t know if I could label it good or bad, but it’s something you can’t duck, I know that,” Brock Huard said. “It’s something you can’t wish away. It’s something you just have to navigate.”