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AUSTIN, Texas -- Peter Jinkens was engaged in a serious battle, 140 characters at a time. It was late at night on Jan. 18, and his Twitter account was on fire.
|Peter Jinkens has toned down his @SUMBODYSTOP_7 Twitter account.|
The online brawl appeared to be over a girl, one whom he's not too fond of anymore. The profanity-laced attacks flowed from his @SUMBODYSTOP_7 account and onto the timelines of friends and fans, rivals and reporters.
Once Jinkens cooled off, he saw the error of his ways and said sorry to his 650-plus followers.
"I WOULD LIKE TO APOLOGIZE FOR MY TWEETS AND FROM THIS DAY FORWARD I WILL SHOW RESPECT AND HONOR FOR THE LONGHORN NAME ..HOOK'EM \m/"
And, more importantly:
"please dont tell mack brown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
On Wednesday, Jinkens will sign his letter of intent and officially become a Longhorn. Once he arrives on campus, though, the four-star linebacker from Dallas Skyline High won't have to worry about anyone tattling to his new head coach.
Brown can walk across the Texas football office and find out for himself. His staffers already receive emails alerting them to inappropriate tweets and Facebook posts made by UT football players.
Texas' football program has partnered with UDiligence, a company whose software provides automated monitoring of the social networking of student-athletes. Every time a football player drops a curse word or refers to drugs, alcohol, race, sex or violence, Texas' athletic department receives a notification.
Kevin Long created UDiligence in 2007 and provides monitoring services for Baylor, Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas and more than 20 other Division I athletic departments. Since starting this endeavor, Long has watched the social network craze grow to the point that he estimates 99 percent of student-athletes have Facebook pages and at least 75 percent use Twitter.
"It's a great communication tool and a way to keep up with friends, but you need to be cognizant of who else is watching," Long said. "You're in a fishbowl. Everyone sees everything. You need to make responsible choices. This is a new frontier for colleges, and they really need to start concentrating on helping these athletes clean up their accounts."
Texas recruits agree. Receiver Cayleb Jones says he knows better than to pick fights online. Kendall Sanders and Adrian Colbert realize others are watching what they say. Linebacker Timothy Cole actually welcomes UT's Big Brother-style oversight.
"It's the life we live in with social media," Cole said. "A lot of people get in trouble with this stuff. It's kind of cool that the colleges have your back and are watching you and making sure you're not doing negative stuff."
They're not afraid of the looming presence of UDiligence because they already make sure to keep their pages clean. The recruits' online maturity is self-taught and was certainly tested during their recruiting process.
When he committed to Texas in April, Cole said he got Facebook messages from Texas A&M fans saying he'd let them down. Colbert's experience was worse -- he remembers one Aggies fan proclaiming, "You'll never be good at anything. You suck." That's not what the safety from Mineral Wells, Texas, signed up for when he started his Twitter account.
"But I didn't say anything back," Colbert said. "I didn't think much of it. He's not giving me my scholarship. I could care less what he says."
Jones chuckles when he's asked about the blasts from rival fans. Happens all the time, he said, and the angry parties are "mostly old guys." Jones loved his visits to A&M and Oklahoma and doesn't hate either program, at least not yet. But the four-star receiver from Austin doesn't fight back. He doesn't want any trouble.
"You can't put anything on the Internet that you don't want somebody to see," Jones said. "The things that sound stupid usually sound a lot better in your head."
That's the mentality Long hopes his service can develop when paired with education and mentoring from an athletic department. Too often, teenagers forget that anything put on their public pages will someday be fair game for potential employers running a Google search.
Today, though, the consequences of bad online etiquette are greater than ever. Even Cole was well aware of the story of cornerback Yuri Wright, the top-50 prospect from New Jersey whose Twitter account got him expelled from school last week and, some reports say, prompted Michigan to pull its scholarship offer.
"We're 17-year-old kids. We do stuff like that," Cole said. "To kick him out, I take that as a lesson. It could've been any football player. A lot of people do it, but since he's a football player it's a higher standard for him than most people."
Texas' recruits have learned from those cautionary tales, and from the threat of their posts being blown out of proportion on blogs and message boards. Colbert doesn't post vulgar song lyrics on Facebook or Twitter because someone might get the wrong idea. Jones even shut down his Facebook page. He got tired of all the friend requests and the lack of privacy that comes with letting everyone in.
"I want to have friends in college and all that, but it just got old to me," he said. "It doesn't really matter to me. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
Jones and Cole are glad to see that Jinkens has been toning his Twitter page down a bit, too. Jinkens didn't respond to multiple interview requests but has lived up to his promise to stop fighting.
His future teammates are just glad Jinkens didn't get in any trouble. They've enjoyed the ability Facebook and Twitter give them to form off-field bonds before they ever get to campus, and they don't anticipate anything will change once Texas' oversight begins.
"Before I click the 'Enter' button, I'll always think about what I'm going to do," Cole said. "I've got to watch myself."
Max Olson covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.
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