UT commits feeling pressure online

AUSTIN, Texas -- High school recruits know that bad decisions can be costly ones when it comes to using Twitter. But what happens when it's adults -- the fans -- who are causing the problems?

A few members of Texas' 2014 class are having trouble with that issue. Perhaps it's because, as recruits who made commitments earlier (in August 2012) than any UT pledge ever had, they're put under the microscope much longer than most commits. Maybe it's because, as extra-early commits, the temptation to look around and take visits elsewhere can be a strong one at times, especially for indecisive teens.

Demetrius Knox reads the message boards and knows some Longhorns fans assume he's going to jump ship before signing day. The Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints lineman received scrutiny for taking a junior day trip to Oklahoma in February. After Texas coach Mack Brown announced that his commits can no longer take visits elsewhere without jeopardizing their spot in the class, Knox acknowledged publicly that he plans to take an unofficial visit to Ohio State next month.

At first, Knox used the name-calling he received from fans online as motivation. Now it's becoming an irritation.

"I got a tweet not too long ago, right after a camp, that had a picture of me and Daniel [Gresham] that said, 'The only way these two play in DKR is if they come and visit,'" Knox said. "I was like, 'Wow, OK.' And that was from a Texas fan."

To some extent, Knox can understand why the Longhorns fan base is uneasy and prone to jumping to conclusions. Five recruits decommitted from Texas' 2013 class. Knox gets why people fear he's, in his words, going to "pull an A'Shawn" and back out at the last minute like A'Shawn Robinson did last month.

But that's perception, and Knox can only do so much on his Twitter account (@meechy77) to curb it. He tried setting his Twitter page to private once, but that lasted only two weeks. He enjoys the notoriety and attention his Texas pledge brings, and he's trying his best to stay mature and level-headed on the medium.

"Certain stuff like name-calling kind of hurts," he said. "I have to restrain myself from tweeting something back to that person. Everybody feels threatened that they're going to have another big-name decommit. That's understandable. But if I was going to do it, I would've done it by now."

His teammate and fellow Texas commit Daniel Gresham faced those same questions last week. After Alabama offered the All Saints back, he told Tide recruiting reporters the offer was a dream come true and that he'd pondered taking a visit someday.

The backlash from Texas fans soon followed, much to Gresham's confusion. He didn't know saying complimentary things about Alabama meant he was close to decommitting.

Earlier this year, after another issue with fans, Gresham shut down his Twitter account and started a new, private one. He lets around only 280 people -- mostly friends, no reporters, a few select fans -- read those tweets.

Kevin DeShazo, the founder of Fieldhouse Media, can understand why Gresham would make that move. DeShazo's company offers social networking monitoring and education for student-athletes and has worked with close to 30 colleges in the past two years.

He knows the Twitter experience can quickly become a negative one for athletes and recruits due to the constant attention they receive from fans.

"The access we have to them is unprecedented," DeShazo said. "That can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. That's the unfortunate thing: They're not allowed the freedom to be kids. We expect a high school junior -- because he's really good at football and Texas or Texas A&M or LSU wants him -- to be a mature adult because they have a Twitter account. Well, they're still 17 or 18 years old."

Twitter gives recruits a forum to control the message. They can create and correct the news. Many use their pages to post photos from their visits or announce their top five or 10 schools. But they can't control what others say.

DeShazo calls the increasing prevalence of fans telling kids where to go to college on Twitter "disturbing." Ignoring those tweets is always the best policy, but not the easiest.

"Don't give power and don't give credibility to somebody whose sum total investment in your life is the 40 seconds it took to send a tweet," DeShazo said. "They don't deserve a response."

Recruits need to know their Twitter account can benefit them greatly, he said, especially when it comes to marketing yourself and expressing your personality. That's becoming more and more important now that coaches are finally catching up to the trend.

Mack Brown and at least six other Texas assistant coaches are now on Twitter, and each one is following 2014 recruits with their accounts.

That certainly raises the bar of accountability for current Longhorns commits. Defensive end Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Brennan), for example, tweeted the following a week ago: "I needa get outta Texas, im keeping my options very open for college."

He has since deleted that post. When the coaches are watching, you better be careful.

Texas signee Jacorey Warrick knew that. That's one reason the ESPN 150 receiver kept posts about his recruitment to a minimum.

Warrick committed to Texas last February and said he never ran into issues with fans online. He didn't bring any drama to Twitter, so he didn't have to deal with any.

"You can't just go running your mouth off. People could see your tweet at a certain time and interpret it as something else," Warrick said. "You've got to be careful with that stuff, because now anyone could be watching me and I wouldn't even know it."

To some extent, that's what makes Twitter tricky for recruits like Knox. Letting fans in on your recruiting process will make you more popular, but being too honest usually leads to trouble.

"At the end of the day, those fans don't really matter," DeShazo said. "What matters is the coaches who are going to make the decisions on scholarships."

And no matter what anyone else says, Knox knows his relationship with the Texas staff is better than ever. That's more important to him than any jab from an anonymous online fan.

"They show me crazy love. Coach [Stacy] Searels says he looks at his board and I'm the No. 1 lineman up there on the board," Knox said. "I just got done talking to Mack Brown on Facebook and he said he believes I'm the No. 1 lineman in the country.

"But with the fan base, it's like, do they even want me to be committed to them anymore?"