ROCHESTER, Minn. — The explosion of social media has completely revamped the world of recruiting. It catches colleges off-guard when a player they’re recruiting doesn’t have social media. Some programs might prefer to work with Caledonia’s Eli King and Stewartville’s Will Tschetter because they can operate in stealth mode, so to speak.
Coaches have to be on Twitter now. If an old-school coach doesn’t have a Twitter account, one is provided for him. He might not tweet on it, but it’s definitely used to promote his program. Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck posts a Gophers-themed Bat signal on his Twitter account when his staff locks down another commit.
Social media isn’t just used for branding and promoting. Many players use it as another way to get exposure. Chatfield’s Chance Backer put up outstanding numbers on the football field, but after he tweeted a video of him coming from behind to win a race in track and field, a bunch of recruiters reached out to him. They didn’t know he was that fast.
Highlight videos are everywhere. Easily accessible. The more views, the better chance that one coach can see it and find a potential addition.
“Using social media was kind of a joke among some coaches, but all the titans in our league and all the teams in our league have gone onto social media to do some recruiting,” Riverland basketball coach Derek Hahn said. “We’ve relied on it heavily.”
Rochester Community and Technical College football coach Derrick Hintz and offensive coordinator Stan Bedwell are also very active on social media.
They find a ton of their talent on Twitter.
“Twitter has become the biggest recruiting tool in the country,” Bedwell said. “If they wanted to cash out a side venture and call it like, ‘Twitter Recruit,’ that would be a big-time, multi-million tool. Every coach would use it. I’ve never used Twitter unless I’m on a college football staff.”
There are some incredibly valuable ways to use social media.
But there’s also a dark side.
Aaron Witt didn’t go about the recruiting process the way that people wanted him to. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Winona defensive end was recruited heavily by Big Ten powerhouses like Wisconsin and Iowa. They wanted him to be their next defensive superstar.
But Witt connected with Fleck’s engaging personality quickly and committed to Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2018. He was in the middle of his junior year of high school. Like many high school kids, Witt had a lot on his mind. Six months later, he decommitted from Minnesota. That irritated a lot of Gophers’ fans on Twitter.
The word ‘commitment’ sounds like a big deal. But in reality, it should be replaced. No one truly commits to a program anymore. They really just reserve their place. Like pre-ordering tickets to a concert or a baseball game.
Witt's decision to decommit from the Gophers hurt because he really does have the talent to be a game-wreaking defensive end one day. But he poured salt into Gopher fans' wounds when he announced his commitment to Iowa in June of 2019.
So now, not only did Witt decommit but he spurned Minnesota for rival Iowa.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Wisconsin was always Witt’s dream school. The Badgers waited and waited to offer him. Finally, in late July, Wisconsin pulled the trigger. Witt was stuck. Did he decommit again and go to his dream school?
Three weeks later, Witt upset some in Hawkeye Nation when he tweeted that he was flipping his commitment to Wisconsin.
The hounds descended onto Witt and blew up his notifications with nasty messages.
“How long before you get dizzy? Figure it out,” Jake Pearson responded.
“Who’s next? Nebraska?” Minnesota North Star questioned.
"That’s regrettable,” Doug Preszler responded.
“Lol originally a Minnesota 'commit' then Iowa 'commit' now Wisconsin 'commit' Hopefully another school offers so you can keep being indecisive,” another account tweeted.
It undoubtedly wasn’t the best look for Witt, but it was the best decision. Many people don’t see the other side of the spectrum. It’s not uncommon for college programs to pull players in even more grotesque ways. Like saying all the right things but at the last second, deciding to take a more talented player instead and leaving a prospect hanging out to dry with no place to go.
Or telling a prospect that his offer would expire in the next two hours, so he had to make a life-changing decision in the next 120 minutes or his scholarship offer would be taken off the table.
But since Witt’s decisions were put on social media, he was free game. And salty fans didn’t hold back making the jokes and making fun of the indecisiveness of a 17-year-old kid.
Social media can be a blessing and a curse. Witt’s experience won’t be the same as others. College coaches are going to continue to adapt and be flexible in order to find what works best to recruit talented players.
Tschetter and King are so talented that they don’t need social media to get recruited. They might be the lucky ones. They don’t have to see the negative aspects of the world. They don’t have to read the unsolicited comments of people they’ve never met and probably will never meet.
But others need Twitter and Instagram to get on the map. And many programs — like Riverland and RCTC — need social media to attract and connect with players.
“At first, it was Facebook, then it transitioned to Twitter and now it’s heavily on Instagram,” Hahn said. “That’s how we’re trying to change and be a chameleon so that whatever is going to best work for us to generate that first contact. Whatever is going to be the best first contact for us is so important for us to connect with that player.”