Prep Football

Social media and recruiting: Players adjust to being in online spotlight

Quincy High School running back has posted several photos, some with his parents, of him wearing uniforms of the schools he has made campus visits to.
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 9, 2018 7:40 am Updated: Apr. 9, 2018 9:51 am

QUINCY -- Jirehl Brock was surprised to hear someone yelling his name.

The day after rushing for 260 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Rock Island last September, the Quincy High School junior running back attended the University of Iowa's game against Penn State as part of the Hawkeyes' ongoing recruiting of Brock.

He was on the Iowa sideline when a fan started hollering at him.

"He's like, 'Dude, I saw that hit last night.' I'm thinking to myself, 'Wow, who are you?'" Brock said. "It's great to be noticed and that people love the things you do, but it can be overwhelming at the same time."

Because of social media, there is no escaping it.

During the Blue Devils' 29-15 victory over the Rocks, Brock delivered a hit at the end of a run that was captured on video by Andrew Ward, the weekend sports anchor for KWQC-TV in Davenport, Iowa. Ward posted the clip on Twitter. Within an hour, it had gone viral.

The clip showed Brock ripping off about a 40-yard run during which he made a move that left Rocks defensive back Jordan Vesey flat-footed as he got to the left sideline. Instead of running out of bounds as four Rocky defenders pursued, Brock lowered his right shoulder and initiated contact with defensive back Michail Sudberry. It was pure power by Brock, who knocked Sudberry flat and popped the defender's helmet off.

ESPN used the clip on SportsCenter. USA Today posted the clip on its website. "Jirehl Brock" was even trending on Twitter. Ward's clip was retweeted more than 1,000 times that night.

So by the next day when Brock was at the Iowa game, his face had been everywhere.

"It kind of gets hectic," Brock said. "There are schools that are recruiting me, and there are people who are diehard fans of those schools who know everything about me, and I don't know who they are. Social media is a big part of everything these days."

That's forcing high school players to be cognizant of everything they do on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and SnapChat. It goes beyond the things they post. It trickles down to what they like, what they retweet and who they follow.

"It makes me self-conscious because they are always going to see it," said Jonny Bottorff, a junior lineman at Quincy Notre Dame who has been attending junior days at FBS and FCS schools for the last month. "Whatever you put out there, even re-Tweeting or having people tag you in stuff, you have to be concerned with.

"I'm safe about it. I never put anything out there that is going to be questionable or is going to be a bad look for me. I'll even unfollow a kid who I know posts bad things. You don't even want to be connected to that."

He knows more people are watching than just his friends.

Bottorff visited Kansas State University in early March, and at the end of his visit, he posted a picture of himself in a K-State jersey and helmet. The response was immediate.

"I was sitting in a restaurant with my dad, and five minutes later, there were three coaches who followed me and one coach who invited me to a junior day," Bottorff said. "They are always watching. Every school is different, but they like to see where you've been and where you're going."

That has created the trend of student-athletes posting pictures each time they visit a college campus.

Brock has posted pictures from trips to Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois and others, while Bottorff has photos from Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois on his Twitter feed.

"It's something I choose to do," Brock said. "You let other schools know you are visiting those schools. If you are a person on the radar, but you never let anyone know you're going to schools and visiting, schools are going to think there might not be anyone interested."

Coaches can react to those posts immediately, rather than wait to send a letter through the postal service.

Receiving an abundance of mail once was a sign of how sought-after a recruit had become. In 1986, after Eric Bush quarterbacked the QHS football team to the playoffs, a picture was taken of him reclining on a pile of propaganda from schools. A similar photo was taken in 2007 of Jack Cornell, the QND lineman who was surrounded by boxes of letters and media guides he had received.

Items received in the mail aren't exactly obsolete. They just aren't as effective.

"If a coach follows me on Twitter, it excites me more than getting a piece of mail," Bottorff said. "I'll get a letter from K-State once a week. Those are kind of cookie cutter things. You don't know how many hundreds of kids are probably going to get those.

"A coach might follow me, and it might be a couple hours or even a day or two, and they'll check out your film and direct message you right on there. That always excites you a little more because you're actually talking to them, and you can build a relationship."

Or ruin one with a negative reaction to anything.

"It makes me think more about what I retweet and what I like," Brock said. "They see you like something questionable, and they have to be asking, 'This kid likes this type of stuff?' If it's so inappropriate and not what they want, they will definitely look at it and take note of it."

It works in reverse, too.

Brock and Bottorff watch how schools portray themselves and try to sell their programs. It can be very influential.

"Schools really post a lot about their university," Brock said. "I take that as a lesson. I read things and look at the videos. It gives me an idea of what their school is about."

It's the same thing coaches are doing to him.

"Having social media is a pretty big deal," Brock said. "That's one way you get yourself out there. They see you other than what they see on film. They're not just recruiting you for how you are on the field or on the court. They are recruiting you for the type of person you are."