Tyler Luatua has never met @Block_Saibot.
But the person behind the Twitter handle tried to convince Luatua, the nation’s No. 3 tight end from La Mirada (Calif.) High, to pick USC through tweets that sounded right out of a recruiter’s playbook.
The day before Luatua was to announce his decision, @Block_Saibot tweeted to Luatua, “I know the Lord was whispering USC in your ear.” Then as the day progressed and it became clear Luatua was about to pick Notre Dame, the tweets turned in a different direction.
“He said, ‘Come to USC, or I will kill myself,'” Luatua said. “He eventually said he was just kidding. He said he’s got kids at home and would never do that, but I thought he was serious at first. That really freaked me out.”
Luatua isn’t the only one freaking out because of the interaction between recruits and fans on social media. According to NCAA rules, fans are not allowed to contact prospective student-athletes — a rule that is rarely, if ever, enforced. In the past, the line between the two groups was pretty clearly defined. Fans would show up at prospects’ games decked out in their favorite school’s colors, and they would bump into prospects when they were on campus for visits. But Twitter allows fans to insert themselves directly into the process.
“Because of social media, fans know where recruits are at,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “They know where they’re going to a movie or where they’re going to hang out that night, and more people are getting involved. I don’t think any of us like that. We like to recruit guys like we always have, and that’s with building great relationships with people and getting to know everybody that’s important to that young man.
“All those outside influences, I don’t think any of us are comfortable with that. They’re getting a lot of people breathing down their necks and putting undue pressure on them and sending them the wrong messages about your program. They have enough pressure on them from the coaches. They don’t need some guy with a computer or cell phone stalking them.”
And in some cases, that’s what it’s turned into.
One recruit said a fan saw his post about going to eat ice cream and appeared minutes later at the same place, shook his hand and snapped a picture with him. “It creeped out my girlfriend,” the recruit said. Another told a story about going to see “Thor” with his friends and having a fan show up and sit right behind him decked out in his school’s colors. The fan said hello, mentioned he followed the recruit on Twitter and encouraged him to come to his favorite school.
It’s gotten so bad that schools such as LSU and Miami have, ironically, gone to Twitter to educate fans about NCAA rules.