Commentary

Social media is way to beat the system

Updated: August 17, 2011, 4:23 PM ET
By Dave Hooker | ESPN Recruiting

A clipboard and a whistle have been coaching necessities for over a century. Now add a smart phone and a laptop.

Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Skype have vastly changed how coaches recruit college football prospects.

Can't email a prospect because it's outlawed by the NCAA calendar? Just send him a Facebook message.

Can't text a prospect? Send him a Twitter message.

Can't visit face-to-face? Skype away.

Call it dirty pool, finding loopholes or just outsmarting the NCAA if you will. Just don't call it a rarity. It's happening everywhere.

"A lot of coaches are having to educate themselves on how to use Facebook, how to use Twitter and Skype; that was never around before," said an assistant coach in the SEC who asked not to be identified. "I get a lot of information about what (a prospect's) favorite food is, what's his girlfriend's name is just from reading his Facebook.

"If there's one person he's telling over and over about a visit, that person probably has some influence. So I try to befriend that person and have a relationship with him. Those are the things that make recruiting totally different. There are no more secrets."

[+] EnlargeJordan Watkins
Courtesy of Phyllis WatkinsAt one point, Jordan Watkins just stayed off Facebook entirely because of all the different people trying to contact him.

Skype is growing in popularity as a social media loophole in the NCAA rule book. Contact via Skype just counts as phone call by the NCAA even though it's essentially videoconferencing. It's simple. Call the high school coach and have the prospect call the recruiter.

"As long as the kid Skype's you, you can talk to him everyday face-to-face (even in non-contact periods)," the coach said.

Some coaches have Skype down to a science, insisting that high school coaches install it on their computers. Then they'll flash championship rings and stage a backdrop with trophies and portraits of past great players.

The methods, however, can backfire. Some prospects have said the constant contact, especially via Facebook, is too much. Just ask Jordan Watkins from College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy.

"Usually it's OK but at times it can be annoying," the four-star defensive tackle said. "A lot of coaches will make first contact on Facebook. They're just trying to meet you. Then they'll give you phone numbers [to call]."

The contact via social media doesn't just come from coaches. It also comes from a handful of reporters who cover every school. In Watkins' case, he is considering so many schools there are countless media members sending him friend requests on Facebook.

"With so many recruiting Web sites, there's so many different reporters out there, every single second you get on Facebook there's somebody trying to get a story from you," Watkins said. "There was a point I would just stay offline and not even appear online to avoid all that. Now that recruiting is started settling down, I've come back online."

There is an upside however. Via Skype and a recruiter in Eugene, Watkins got to take a recent tour of Oregon's athletic facilities without ever leaving Georgia.

Future Vol crisscrossed?

When tailback Imani Cross committed to Tennessee in February his recruitment was supposed to be over, right? Not even close.

Several schools, namely Virginia, haven't given up on the four-star tailback from Gainesville (Ga.) North Hall and while Cross maintains he's still committed to be a Vol, he's not afraid to peak around.

"Tennessee is way above anybody else but if there is anybody else knocking on its door, I'm kind of looking through the peephole to see who it is. I think Virginia is that school," said Cross.

Cross said North Carolina also hasn't given up the fight to change his mind, but he has mixed feelings on the Tar Heels after their recent coaching change and ongoing NCAA investigation.

"I really don't know what to think because I was getting used to the last coach," said Cross of Butch Davis, who was fired in July. "When I heard there was a new coach coming in I kind of lost hope a little bit. But then I read [interim coach Everett Withers'] biography and I think they are still going in a good direction."

However, Withers has plenty of work to do to land Cross because it sounds like the Tar Heels would have to pass the Cavaliers well before they approached Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeEverett Withers
AP Photo/Gerry Broome"This has been a tough time around here, and he's really done a great job," North Carolina QB Bryn Renner said of interim coach Everett Withers.

"I think Virginia is a great school, great academics, great coach, that they're going in a good direction," said Cross. "Coach [Mike] London really has a goal he's set and I think they'll reach it."

Still, neither school should get too excited until they make up some ground.

"I'm still committed to Tennessee," he said. "It's a strong commit but there are some schools behind them like North Carolina and Virginia. I don't think they're giving Tennessee any true competition because I'm committed right now."

UNC down but not out for Rankins

Three-star defensive end Sheldon Rankins is still in shock from the upheaval at North Carolina. The defensive end from Covington (Ga.) Eastside said he was close to committing to be a Tar Heel before the coaching change and learning more about the NCAA investigation.

"Those are pretty big factors," the 6-3, 245-pounder said. "I know that they have the players. That's not a question at all. It's mainly to see how the NCAA is going to come down on the program."

Rankins said he's now considering scholarship offers from South Florida, Auburn, Louisville, Nebraska and Mississippi State. North Carolina is still in the hunt, but no longer holds the top spot.

"But at the end of the day, I love the campus," said Rankins. "I love the coaching staff. I love everything about it. I know coach Withers is going to do a great job so they're not my No. 1 but they're definitely still one of my choices."

North Carolina dual-threat QB on the rise

Carlis Parker is quickly becoming one of the hottest quarterbacks in the 2013 class. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Statesville (N.C.) High School already has scholarship offers from Eastern Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Although the junior is a long way from setting up visits, he's sure he wants to take a close look at the Hokies in Blacksburg and the Gamecocks in Columbia.

Virginia Tech has a certain allure after its coaching staff mentored successful, mobile signal-callers like Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor.

"I just like the coaching and everything," Parker said. "With [coach Frank] Beamer, he coached a lot of quarterbacks like me. It's a very good history there. I really like the school and the program and everything."

As for South Carolina, Parker said, "So far I just like the football program," then added that he needs to further inspect the school. When asked what will be key in his recruitment, he said academics topped the list.

"The first thing I mainly look for in a school is how they are at graduating players," he said. "To me that's real important. Another thing that I really look for is the environment."

Parker said he believes Florida and Notre Dame are close to offering him a scholarship, that both schools have said they'd like to see tape of his upcoming junior season before extending official invites.

"They're recruiting me real hard," he said. "They say they want my film from this year. They said they don't go off your sophomore stuff."

This season could show a new side of the dual-threat quarterback.

"I would say this year it's going to be more passing than running [than last year] but it's still going to be a lot of running because I run the ball a lot," he said. "I can run and throw, whatever I've got to do."

Parker threw for 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, while rushing for 1,300 yards and 14 scores.

Parker said he doesn't plan on making an early decision as many quarterbacks often do. He said he'll wait until after his senior season to make his announcement.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation