For Penn State football coaches, vetting social media is a constant in recruiting

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Ja'Juan Seider

Ja’Juan Seider, Penn State’s running backs coach, scrolls through two phones daily as recruiting tools, often to his wife’s exasperation. He does so for this reason.

“The one day you don’t scroll,” Seider said, “is the one day you’re too late.”

College football’s recruiting cycle has entered what’s known as the “dead period,” a month-long break during which coaches and players cannot meet in person. But they can talk, text and, just as crucially, check each other’s social media. At Penn State, that has become an evaluation component alongside grades, film and 40-yard-dash times.

Social media has “taken recruiting to another level,” Seider said recently, through its immediacy and constancy. Coaches and programs nationally have made social media one of their go-to spaces in which to meet and pitch recruits. Coaches also spend time and resources vetting recruits via social media, noting what they post, when they post and what they share.

For Penn State coach James Franklin, those elements help complete a recruiting portrait that ultimately can mean a scholarship offer or not.

“If a kid posts something you think is inappropriate and you address it with him, and you see him modify his behavior, OK, great,” Franklin has said. “If you see a kid post something and you address it with him and he keeps posting ignorant stuff, then, yeah, you start to have some real concerns.”

An influential force: Seider, who has coached and recruited in college football for a decade, called social media one of the most influential forces in recruiting. Some players chart every stage of their recruiting process, committing (and decommitting) through their accounts.

For Seider, that level of approval-seeking has become a guardrail to the process.

“Some kids get influenced by, I need likes and retweets by guys who haven’t paid one dollar to go watch them play, and they call themselves fans,” Seider said. “It makes you wonder about some kids you’re recruiting. I question: Do they really love football or do they love what football does for them?"

Seider pays close attention to social-media feeds to build snapshots of player personalities and character. While those pictures aren’t complete by any means, they do help frame recruiting profiles.

Seider said that athletes, and football players in particular, can be judged too harshly for their social media. Athletes play with emotion but then are expected to suppress that off the field.

Futures can be at stake: Still, the coach said, football players have to realize how their online presence can affect their futures.

“When you signed up to play football, you signed up to do things differently," Seider said. “You signed up to do things the right way. You signed up to sacrifice. Everybody would like to tell that one person on the internet to go kiss something, but you can’t.”

Franklin said that social media has made recruiting “much easier” because it offers a 24-hour window into players’ lives. The coach takes note of players who are active on social media at 2, 3 or 4 a.m., particularly on weeknights.

Conversely, Franklin enjoys messaging players at 6 a.m. and receiving a quick response. It means they’re up early and getting to work.

“All those things paint a picture of what you’re investing in,” Franklin said.