Recruits learn positives, negatives of social media exposure

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 1, 2014 

Mike Haskey Carver defenders, including Robert Jernigan(45) and Mekhi Brown(10) tackle Shaw running back Brent McKelvin in the first half Friday night at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium. 09/06/13


Carver High football player Mekhi Brown learned the hard way how passionate football fans in America really are.

Last summer, the rising senior posted to Twitter and Instagram about a trip he took to the University of Tennessee for a workout. The problem, he was told, was that he was already committed to the University of Alabama. Word spread among his Twitter followers where he was and the story got around that he was taking advantage of the opportunity in Knoxville to recruit others to play for the Crimson Tide.

“I wasn’t up there trying to recruit anybody or anything,” Brown said. “I just went to work out up there. But one big lie turned into this big thing where people where telling me I was being disrespectful to Tennessee.”

It’s the price major college recruits pay in today’s digital age of social media, in which the casual fan can connect and be a single click away from athletes.

Brown sees it on a daily basis. The defensive end, rated as a four- or five-star prospect depending on the recruiting service, said he gets between five and 10 new followers every day.

“Some days it’s more than that,” he said. “People I’ve never met, never seen in my life. It’s crazy. Just out of the blue. It’s crazier on Instagram.”

It’s a feature that only became a major part of recruiting in the past five years with the growth of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on an international level. It’s a blessing and curse for athletes, who are able to gain more exposure than ever before but also open themselves up to a firestorm from the most fervent of football fans.

Dealing with the attention is a learning process, Brown said.

“I used to look through all of that,” he said. “Now, there’s really no point. As long as you’re honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter.”

He added that with so many eyes on him, it’s important to be careful what he says, a lesson many high-profile college and professional players have had to learn the hard way over the years.

“If you say crazy stuff or do the wrong thing, people will judge you for it,” he said. “I just try to show people that I’m a humble, good guy.”

Central athlete Traveon Samuel, a rising senior and four-star recruit, said he used to try to send messages back to fans who contacted him on Twitter who asked about his future, but it just got too crazy.

Occasionally fans get upset and may voice their displeasure when a recruit takes a visit or posts news about opposing schools, Samuel added.

“Sometimes they do get upset, but I just keep showing fans the same love,” he said.

It isn’t all negative, of course.

Kiante Walton, who just finished his last season as defensive back at Carver, said he loves the interaction.

“It’s crazy how much I hear from them, but it’s really cool, though,” he said. “I like it. It’s all positive. They wish me nothing but the best.”

The experience, like the rest of recruiting, Brown said, is all up to you.

“I feel like it’s what you make it,” he said. “These are huge fans. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. You just have to be honest with yourself and not let anything get to you.”

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