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SALT LAKE CITY — A day after National Signing Day swept across Utah and left a bountiful crop of new recruits at the state’s universities, the coaches of the three FBS institutions in the Beehive State couldn’t help but notice the impact social media had on this year’s group.
Every high school student with a cellphone has access to a plethora of apps, and they use social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat better than many of the coaches plying for their pledge every year. Likewise, fans and boosters of these teams can follow each recruit and learn about the teenager’s thought process as he makes a decision that will impact his life.
For some, as in the case of enormous BYU signee Motekiai Langi, the impact was positive. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
The Cougars unveiled Langi’s letter of intent to join the team after he finishes an LDS church mission to Arizona. Though the 6-foot-7, 410-pound behemoth from Tonga was studying church doctrine in the Provo MTC on Signing Day, people were talking about him from coast to coast on Feb. 4.
“I don’t understand it, but we were over there at the draft day and they showed me all these dots,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall recalled. “They tried to explain what was happening, and I didn’t grasp it. But they said people were talking about us.”
People talking about a school on the first Wednesday in February, with memories of bowl games, national championships or losing seasons in the rearview mirror, can be good for a school’s reputation. It can also introduce the world to a player who has no regular football experience but has played rugby for most of his life and is a cousin to BYU linebacker Harvey Langi.
Is BYU trolling us? No video or pictures of him playing on the Internet. Four total photos on Facebook pic.twitter.com/z7GmNR7Gwm — Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 4, 2015
“I wish you could just see the guy. He’s so humble and hard-working in this giant body,” Mendenhall said of Motekiai Langi. “The plan wasn’t for it to be intended (like it was), but maybe he is another (Vince) Wilfork for the Patriots. That would be awesome. I think it’s worth it.”
Social media swept the world with athletic departments and teams providing never-before-seen access to fans and boosters looking for more ways to support their teams and get to know the personnel surrounding their Saturday experience.
Tracking social metrics for #BYUNSD15 ... LOTS of people had LOTS to say about the 2015 signees!! #BYUFOOTBALL#Nuvipic.twitter.com/eVonsIvWnm — BYU Cougars (@BYUCougars) February 5, 2015
But it also has a dark side, as recruits vacillate in the decision-making process and even commit to several schools before the annual Signing Day ceremonies of hats on a table and news television cameras.
Utah State coach Matt Wells can’t cite the numbers — but he has noticed an apparent uptick in de-commitments during a recruit’s high school career.
“I think you’ve got some kids out there, and I don’t think it’s many, but some kids love reading their name,” Wells told reporters at Utah State’s signing day announcement Wednesday. “They’ll de-commit, and then retweet every fan or every media person who writes their name. They’ll retweet it all the time, and it’s appealing to some.”
Wells added he doesn’t fault any recruit from turning back on a big decision. He uses social media regularly to help market his program, build the Aggies’ brand and connect with players, fans and other coaches like never before.
Grabbing coffee on way into #NSD15 Will soon have more future Aggies from Florida! #AggieNation#AggieUppic.twitter.com/ZWjr56JVZv — Matt Wells (@CoachWellsUSUFB) February 4, 2015
In the end, each recruit is making a dramatic life decision — at 17 or 18 years old.
“It’s a big decision for these kids. Besides who they marry, it might be the second biggest decision of their life,” Wells said. “Some kids handle differently, and some kids get different guidance at home. If they choose to go somewhere else, you move on. If they choose your place and they are the right fit, you get excited about it.”
Whether it’s mentioned on Twitter or not, moving forward is the key for any program after any recruit de-commits — especially the high-profile ones with extra stars next to their name on the Internet.
“There’s a lot of (decommitting), and there seems to be a little more each year. You’ve just got to keep going; you’re never going to get everybody you want,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said at Wednesday’s announcement. “You’ll lose some guys … but you’ve got to be resilient, not get your feelings hurt, and realize it’s just part of the game.”
In the end, a football program works best with recruits and players who want to be there, added Wells.
“If kids want to come and be a part of what we’re doing, we’ll continue to win games,” he said. “I don’t think we need them if they aren’t here to win games.
“We’ll win without them, because we already have. I believe in the kids who have stuck with us, and those who have transferred, too.”
Contributing: Josh Furlong