Social Networking: The 12th Man of USC Football Recruiting


Jan 29, 2012; Honolulu, HI, USA; NFC linebacker London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins (59) sends a twitter message on the sideline against the AFC during the 2012 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

At The Opening, commits have come out in droves, sporting gear from their future colleges of choice with pride. They are bonding with their future teammates and communicating with non-committed recruits about their interests.

None more so than the young athletes committed to suit up in cardinal and gold come the 2013 season.

The Trojans have more commits than another other school partaking in The Opening, and they know exactly what they are doing. The fact that they are even in a position to boast the most commits of anyone speaks to just how rich the recruiting trail has been for the Trojans, in spite of their scarce amount of scholarships.

According to USC’s commits though, that scarcity is exactly what has encouraged them to give their word already. “People don’t want to be the odd man out,” cornerback Chris Hawkins of Rancho Cucamonga said to ESPN Recruiting Nation blog, We Are SC. “We’ve only got 18 spots and if the 18 fill up then somebody is going to be left out.”

Piggybacking that sentiment, quarterback Max Browne spoke about the experience of having so many future teammates together at The Opening. “With the amount of commits we have, people take notice. We’re here to let people know that USC is the place to be.”

But what has enabled USC to appear as the place to be?

Social media and the always-connected nature of our society today allow recruits to have more access to each other than they ever have before. Gone are the days when the only people talking to high school athletes were the coaches; now with a quick search and the click of a mouse, recruits can “friend” each other across various platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and talk to each other about what they have going on. Today we see high school athletes having thousands of followers on Twitter, ranging from friends and family to other recruits, current players at the schools interested in them, and members of the media. This means that thousands of people are constantly following the decisions these guys make, and that could absolutely impact the decisions of their peers.

For example, in early June, top safety recruit Su’a Cravens tweeted about his decision to commit to USC:

Cravens is followed by Max Browne (USC commit) and Michael Hutchings (USC commit) who saw him joyfully tweet where he would play his college ball. A few weeks later, Hutchings out of De La Salle, also tweeted his commitment to USC:

Just a few years ago, when a player made his commitment to a school, that was the end of it. Sure, he might have been able to text other recruits about his decision, but that’s not something that could have been seen and reproduced by the masses. Today when a recruit makes a decision, things like this follow up tweet from Cravens can happen, and they happen often:

Leading up to July 1 when Hutchings made his decision, he and Cravens regularly tagged each other in tweets and engaged in dialogue. Cravens was not alone in expressing his feelings about Hutchings committing to USC, either. Eddie Vanderdoes, a four-star defensive lineman, also extended his congratulations to Hutchings:

The significance of this? Vanderdoes released his top 10 schools in July, and USC was one of them. He is currently at The Opening with many USC commits, and he has scheduled a visit to USC for this summer. Vanderdose also regularly interacts with Hutchings on Twitter, and who knows just how much that will impact who he signs with?

Thanks to Twitter, recruits can endorse each others’ commitments, and non-committed interests that have yet to be scooped up in the vast sea of recruiting can see said endorsements. Can these tweets sway a recruit one way or another? The jury is still out on that, but it stands to reason that social media activity—which is immediate and directly from the source—could influence recruits to align themselves with a particular school.

At USC, the social media presence of its targets has so far worked in the Trojans’ favor. Like Hawkins said, USC doesn’t have a lot of scholarships to give out and players who want to be Trojans are jumping on them because they are seeing just how quickly those 18 spots are being taken. It’s one thing to have the coaches selling an athlete on their program; that’s their job. It’s another entirely when one sees his peers constantly tweeting about how excited they are to join the Trojan Family, or Buckeye Nation, or the Crimson Tide, or whoever.

We have seen the power of social media during recruiting before, like when Cal was hard at work assembling one of the best recruiting classes they have ever had. Over a series of days, 2012 recruits like Bryce Treggs, then-Cal commit Shaq Thompson (who subsequently de-committed and will play for Washington this season) and others when on a tweeting spree, and they ended all of their tweets with the hashtag #CalGang, signifying their excitement and alliance to Cal. (A hashtag, designated by the “#” sign, is used to mark key words or topics in a tweet. All tweets that use a particular hashtag are categorized and can be found via a search.)

The #CalGang hype was hot for a few weeks and then Cal defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi took a job of the same title with Washington and a bunch of those recruits jumped ship. However, at the time, the #CalGang was a powerful tool that the Bears lucked into, as it got future players and fans excited about Cal football, something they desperately needed after repeated mediocre years.

Twitter—though it has been around since 2006—has only recently had such a huge presence in sports media, and has already significantly altered the way we consume information. Back when Devon Kennard was the No. 1-ranked defensive end coming out of high school in the class of 2009, social media was irrelevant to his recruiting. “I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account until I got to college, and no coaches ever hit me up on Myspace,” he said.

Just three years later, we now live-tweet sporting events and know the happenings and whereabouts of our favorite sports icons, and that is the norm. We can see just how powerful of a recruiting tool high school athletes can be, as they can tweet all kinds of good PR about their respective schools, and encourage others to join them at a particular university.

USC still has a few scholarships left to hand out, as do all the other programs closely monitoring The Opening. If Twitter and social media have anything to do with it, the Trojans could have its 2013 class filled before the current players even lace up for the 2012 season.