Tennessee Tracks Recruits on Twitter

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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)

Potential Tennessee football recruits beware - the Vols have hired someone to watch you on social media.

The UT football program subscribes to a service that monitors recruits on social media. The company provides UT with "pages and pages" of information to look over and alert them if any red flags arise with recruits.

"The benefit of that is we don't have to spend hours and hours and hours searching. It comes right to us now," said Bob Welton, UT's director of player personnel. "I like those things. The coaches talk about them in the staff meeting."

Welton and Tennessee women's tennis coach Alison Ojeda were part of a panel that spoke on Tuesday at Scripps Lab Theater during UT Social Media Week. Put on by UT's College of Communication and Information, the panel was titled " 'Manning' Your Reputation: How to use social media to grow your online presence."

In a nod to UT football coach Butch Jones, Tuesday's entire slate was called "Brick by Brick: Using Social Media to Build a Brand." UT linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen was scheduled to appear, but Welton took his place because Thigpen had to attend a meeting.

Welton and Ojeda discussed how social media impacts college recruiting and the social dynamics within their respective programs.

Ojeda, a former UT All-American, became more engaged in social media once she started her coaching career and realized how essential it was for recruiting. "It has changed our lives drastically," Ojeda said.

Ojeda has pulled scholarship offers from verbally committed athletes after seeing a social media post that she considered offensive.

From AB9 Social Media Dos and Don'ts for Student-Athletes

"The University of Tennessee spends millions on student-athletes. If you screw up with one thing on social media, there goes your scholarship," Ojeda said. "Just like that your whole world has changed."

The UT football staff uses social media to gather inside information on other programs. By following players that are being heavily recruited, the Vols can learn what they are competing against.

"They are so free with their information, we sit back literally and we print out every picture they take so they can be looked and say, 'OK this is what they are selling these kids. This is how they are handling their business,' " Welton said. "So it's really for us - we use it in a private investigative way to help us realize what other schools are trying to do to get these kids."

Ojeda said older coaches that are not willing to embrace social media are "so frustrated" by the landscape of recruiting in the digital age.

"We will go to a tournament and start talking with a recruit and they will say 'How did you already have contact with them,' " Ojeda said. "A lot of it is done before on social media."

But as helpful as social media can be for coaches, there are drawbacks. Many recruits and current players are lacking communication skills.

Ojeda has instituted a policy that no cell phones can be used during van rides to matches or community service events. After a bit of withdrawal, she said the players begin to learn more about each other.

"People don't know how to hold conversations anymore," Ojeda said. "The 16- and 17-year-old kids don't know how to communicate. Using social media can help you, but it doesn't matter if you can't have a conversation with anybody. You need to learn how to have a conversation."

Welton sees the same problem during football recruiting visits. Many recruits don't know how to make eye contact or talk face to face.

"They hear the buzz go off in their pocket and it is almost like they don't hear a word you say. They want to get in there and see what it is. Really what it is, it's an addiction," Welton said. "And we've found kids that just bring it out and they will text while they are talking. In my generation that is extremely rude and disrespectful. But to you guys, it's pretty much commonplace. I see it all around campus and within our team."

Along with preparing players for the transition from a recruit showered with adoration to just another teammate in the locker room, the UT football coaches advise them on the social media changes.

"All those fans bases that you scorned and didn't go to their school are still following you and waiting for you to screw up, waiting for you to say something they don't agree with and then blast you," Welton said. "You have to be careful what you post once you're here."

The UT football coaches want players that are social-media savvy and can operate in the current climate. They just don't want it coming at the expense of considerate behavior.

"We try to find kids that can actually look you in the eye, know how to shake your hand," Welton said. "That stuff still matters. It really does. That goes a long way with us."

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March 6, 2017


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