Social media forges instant impressions

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- David Andrews knew many of his future teammates at Georgia before ever actually meeting them face to face.

In an era when Facebook and Twitter seep into every corner of the recruiting process, Andrews, now a rising sophomore offensive lineman, said those social media outlets helped develop bonds between members of the Bulldogs' 2011 signing class well before they enrolled at UGA.

"Recruiting's a big thing, because you'd hear so-and-so committed -- like in our recruiting class, I was one of the first four commits," he said, "so I'd go and try to find them and be like, 'Hey, welcome to the Bulldog Nation. Glad to have you. Here's my number,' and we'd just kind of keep in touch. It does play a very big role in the recruiting process, just keeping everyone connected."

"Everyone" includes more than the future signees. Social media provides an easy vehicle for college players, coaches, fans and recruiting analysts to reach out to high school and juco players who are in the process of selecting their eventual college destination.

For uncommitted top prospects who are nearing their decision, those interactions can become exhausting and excessive.

On Jan. 5, the day he competed in the Under Armour All-America Game, then-uncommitted prospect Jordan Jenkins -- a four-star outside linebacker rated as the nation's No. 67 overall prospect on the ESPNU 150 -- received more than 100 friend requests on Facebook. In fact, Jenkins (Hamilton, Ga./Harris County) said approximately one-third of his 2,884 Facebook friendships started once he emerged on the national recruiting radar.

"Pretty much every day when I get on, I have 10 to 15 friend requests," Jenkins laughed. "Now it's getting everywhere."

Fans, coaches capitalize

When it comes to fans, of course much of the communication is an attempt to sway a player toward the fan's school of choice.

Three-star defensive end Josh Dawson (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) has recently been the recipient of many such messages as he considers switching his commitment from Vanderbilt to Georgia.

"Lately I get three or four messages a day," Dawson said. "There are a lot of Vandy fans on Twitter. When South Carolina was in it, I heard a lot from their fans. Fans from other schools would come out of nowhere and say, 'Hey I would love for you to come to my school. You look good in such-and-such colors.' It's funny and it's flattering."

Because it allows them to keep tabs on recruits so easily, social media skyrocketed in popularity among coaches who are able to skirt NCAA rules that govern communication via telephone and text message.

It also makes it easy to touch base with the players -- nearly all of whom are active on at least one form of social media.

Andrews even learned of his first scholarship offer while sitting in class at Wesleyan School in Norcross, Ga., when he received a Facebook message from former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.

"He wrote this message to me and said, 'Hey, I hope everything's good. I just wanted to see if you'd gotten our offer yet in the mail,'" Andrews said. "So that's how I found out about it, because I hadn't received the written offer in the mail yet."

Florida assistant Brian White even surprised Jenkins and his family when they stopped by during Jenkins' official visit, decorating his office with pictures pulled from Jenkins' Facebook page.

That might be viewed as an over-the-top recruiting tactic by casual recruiting observers, but Jenkins said it amused him because he has known White since his freshman year of high school.

"He had a little collage of about five or 10 different pictures of me and my sister and all that," Jenkins said. "We were good family friends, so it wasn't that weird, but I was shocked that he had them all up on his wall."

Social media smack

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart tried to stay in touch with Jenkins over Facebook until the last minute before Jenkins announced his decision. Jenkins selected Georgia over Smart's Crimson Tide on the same evening that Alabama defeated LSU in the BCS Championship Game.

In fact, they still maintain a relationship there, trading friendly jabs only recently.

"He was telling me, 'I can't wait to play against you next year, because I know all your weaknesses,' and something else," Jenkins recalled. "I laughed and said, 'All right, we'll see who's laughing after we roll the Tide.'"

Recruiting at football's highest levels is a cutthroat business, so programs will make use of any outlet that will help them glean an advantage. The use of social media is absolutely one such vehicle for recruiters as they attempt to build the next signing class that will enhance their championship hopes.

There are more innocent uses of social media, however, helping to ease the transition for high school prospects who will soon leave home for the first time. Perhaps that was the greatest benefit for Andrews and his signing classmates as they took that potentially intimidating step last year.

"Knowing a bunch more of the guys, once you got here it's not that bad," Andrews said. "The first couple weeks of meeting people, you already kind of know them or have hung out with them and feel like you've shared stuff, like common interests or whatever. It really does help the transition and you kind of feel like you've already got friends around you."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.