TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In the small town of Tuscaloosa, Ala., athletes at the University of Alabama are usually within arms reach. Whether it's on The Strip or The Quad, there's always a football or basketball player to be seen.
In the 21st century, that intimacy has only become more pronounced. Want to ask Dont'a Hightower how it felt to hoist the BCS title trophy? Just ask him on Twitter or Facebook. He might answer.
While William Vlachos and Brad Smelley battled at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week, the two former UA stars provided updates every day on Twitter. Vlachos posted about the pranks being played on former Georgia center Ben Jones. Smelley checked in on Tuesday, posting, "First 2 practices have been great at the Senior Bowl. Staying on the grind gotta finish the week strong."
Smelley said he got on Twitter after becoming disenchanted with Facebook.
"I kind of got tired of the Facebook deal and actually got on (Twitter), following people I liked: players, movie stars, that kind of stuff," Smelley said. "It was cool to keep up with them and then it got kind of addictive. You got to see why your friends and then everyone in the world started getting on it. It was a cool deal."
The former Alabama tight end has more than 16,500 followers on Twitter. He posts photos, interacts with fans and even lists his university e-mail address so people can get in touch with him. But that openness comes with a certain amount of caution. Asked whether he thinks twice before he posts online, Smelley said there was no question he does.
"Absolutely you do," Smelley said. "You're under a microscope. You have to watch what you say."
Smelley said the coaching staff doesn't have to spell out the rules for using social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. He said common sense is a good enough guideline.
"You just don't give away team stuff that goes on in the locker room," Smelley said. "Team stuff stays in the building. You don't want to give out any information for a game or anything like that."
High school recruits haven't been so secretive of late. Whether it's tweeting a college decision or defending their choices, things can get out of hand quickly if they're not careful. When T.J. Yeldon announced he would go to Auburn in December, his Twitter account went dark in an attempt to stay out of the backlash sure to come. Since he switched his commitment to Alabama on Dec. 18, he hasn't mentioned Auburn once on Twitter.
The University of Alabama Student-Athlete Handbook and Planner does offer advice when prospects like Yeldon hit campus. The university advises athletes to "be mindful that content is not private and that there could be long-term ramification … Do not post personal information … Consider that your coach, teammates, family and even future employers may review your site … Do not post comments about fellow student-athletes, coaches, administration or faculty."
Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.