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Football: For high school athletes, social media is part of the game
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West Forsyth tight end Ben Bresnahan, a Vanderbilt commit, had to be plugged in during his recruiting process.

Clayton Bardall wants to make sure he got everything right, so he’ll type out a paragraph, delete it, type it out again and check it intently before sending it. For an athlete in Bardall’s position, Twitter can be a bit like a cover letter.

Social media and technology are often regarded as distractions when it comes to their relationships with high schoolers, distracting students from their schoolwork and creating unnecessary drama. Athletes are certainly included in that, and some college teams, like Clemson’s football team and UConn’s women’s basketball team, make a point to quit social media altogether during the season.

That isn’t really an option for high schoolers. Social media may be a distraction, and it may cause more grief than it’s worth. But it’s also part of the game today, as much as film study or getting an ankle taped.

For Bardall, it’s about playing football beyond high school. The North Forsyth senior tight end is a solid prospect, one drawing interest from Football Championship Subdivision schools, but not a blue-chipper, so he has to do a good bit of the recruiting work himself. Part of that is using Twitter to reach out to college coaches via direct message and using that contact to establish a deeper relationship.

“It’s definitely intimidating at first,” said North quarterback Ben Bales, who also has aspirations of playing beyond high school. “But once you start talking to them, it gets a little better.”

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North Forsyth's Ben Bales, left, and Clayton Bardall enjoy some back and forth with the media at the 2017 Forsyth County Media Day Wednesday, July 26. - photo by Micah Green

Part of Twitter’s appeal, at least in its early days, was its unfiltered nature, how it was built for putting random musings online for a user’s inner circle to see. For high school athletes who want to impress prospective recruiters, though, that isn’t an option.

“The way we want to use social media is (that) it should be a highlight of your life,” North head coach Robert Craft said.

North has a section in its player handbook devoted to social media use, and Craft now makes sure to address the issue with his players. West head coach Shawn Cahill has a policy that if a player is on Twitter, he has to follow his coach. Lambert safety/running back Marcus Chatelain isn’t enthusiastic about social media use, so Longhorns head coach Louis Daniel has tried to encourage the senior to promote himself.

“I have to tell him to tweet things,” Daniel said with a laugh. “He just won’t do it.”

Daniel has issues with the large role of social media on today’s high school football landscape. He bemoans the damage that can be done with a single bad post and the pressure athletes feel during the recruiting process to live up to what their peers are going through, with much of that information being available in real time.

“For years and years and years, a talented athlete’s not sitting here worried in January or February or April about his recruiting going into senior year,” Daniel said. “They understand how the process works. Now, you get some kid one county over tweeting about an offer he got, and I’ve got five or six faces looking at me the next morning asking, ‘Where’s my offer?’”

Daniel is no Luddite, though. He’s a fan of Twitter’s ability to connect coaches and recruits, and his program has its own Twitter account (@LambertRecruit) that college coaches can use to get in contact with the Longhorns – other programs in the county have accounts for similar purpose. Daniel, who had to cut hours and hours of VHS tapes in his early days as a coach, is also thankful for the video sharing platform Hudl, where programs can put game film and recruits can make highlights of their best plays.

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Lambert's Alex Snyder, right, answers a question from the media at the 2017 Forsyth County Media Day Wednesday, July 26. - photo by Micah Green

“(With) Hudl, we can show up Saturday morning at 10 o’clock and have 12 hours of work already done,” Daniel said. “It doesn’t make you a lazier coach – it lets me spend more time with my family.”

Cahill has long given up the resistance to technology and change – though he did call Snapchat “Snapface” for a year – and now is focused on making sure it’s a positive aspect of his players’ image and that they aren’t getting into any harmful shenanigans.

For Wolverines cornerback Cade Vela, that means Cahill is like a second dad – his real one already keeps a close eye on what Vela does online.

He can’t be as outspoken as some of his non-college football prospect friends, but as Vela sees it, that’s probably a good thing.

“It makes us better people in society,” he said.