New Technology Changes High School Football Recruiting
Harlan, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
McKeesport's Branden Jackson, about to board a flight, decided to tell friends he was heading out of town. So, on Facebook, he wrote: "I'm at the airport."
Nice and simple, he thought -- until his phone started buzzing with messages and calls from those who closely follow college football recruiting. Where was he going? What school would he visit?
"I thought: 'Whoa! I just posted that two seconds ago,' " Jackson said with a laugh. "They'll be blowing your phone up all night (with messages) if you have it synced."
When you're a coveted college recruit, news travels fast during the weeks leading to Feb. 2. This year, Wednesday is when seniors, including about 15 from the WPIAL headed to Football Bowl Subdivision schools, will sign a binding National Letter of Intent.
Recruiting news travels faster than ever, driven by the Internet and especially social media.
"As soon as you tell somebody something, bam, it's on the Internet," said Woodland Hills' Quinton Jefferson, a defensive end committed to Maryland.
New communication technologies have drastically changed the way high school athletes are recruited.
"There are no more secrets," said Randy Taylor, who spearheaded UCLA's football recruiting for parts of the past two decades.
Taylor, 53, now is an analyst for National Collegiate Scouting Association, an organization that provides recruiting information to college coaches.
"With the Internet and technology, there are no secrets," he said. "You live your life that way. If you're recruiting a kid and say something to him, he can tell the Internet that night. You can't hide."
There used to be secrets. Taylor, who was director of football operations for UCLA and later Minnesota, can describe clandestine meetings with recruits and misinformation efforts between programs that might seem lifted from a spy novel. Not that Taylor ever used them, of course.
"I would never admit to it," he said with a laugh.
Times have changed. Now, the recruiting process is like the stock market, gainers and losers gauged after each campus visit.
Had a good time in Gainesville? Florida's up. Didn't like the weather in East Lansing? Michigan State's down.
"We were able to start hearing through the Internet about what kids were saying and how recruiting was going," Taylor said, "That changed everything."
It began in 1996 with Rival Networks, a recruiting message board that was the precursor to today's rivals.com, which was founded in 2001. The website went mainstream in 2007 when it was purchased by Yahoo! There are many competitors, including scout.com, flooding the Internet with news about official visits and verbal commitments.
During those early days, Taylor said, he read online that Joe Paterno was offering Penn State scholarships to underclassmen.
"We first heard about it on the Internet," Taylor said, "and that kind of brought us into the (online) world. We started paying attention to what recruiting sites were saying."
When Taylor was at UCLA, he remembers making an in-home visit to a tailback who had committed to Southern Cal. The visit was supposed to be secret, but somehow word leaked on a message board, allowing Southern Cal to rush back and land the recruit.
The playing field had changed.
"There are so many avenues with technology out there to communicate with people," said McKeesport coach Jim Ward, who has helped guide Jackson, a linebacker, and Delvon Simmons, a defensive tackle, through their recruitments.
Some changes in technology have been great for recruits. The Internet provides added exposure, including easy access to videos that once had to be mailed.
"It's a lot easier to make highlight films and cut-ups for the kids," Ward said. "Now, instead of sending film to 100 different schools and waiting for those DVDs to land in their laps, I post them online. …