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.
Att. fans/boosters,we have 45 ov's and many more unov's this wkend. If u c a recruit, please leave them alone. Let coaches do the recruiting
— LSU Compliance (@LSUCompliance) October 11, 2013
Dear fans tweeting recruits: please stop. It's creepy. And sending hate tweets is unnecessary and immature. Have some class. @UCompliance"Twitter is the Wild West of recruiting," five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) said. "I've had some weird things tweeted at me, crazy things. Some I can't say. It does get to the point where fans will tell you, 'If you come to my school, I'll give you this.' 'I'll throw a party for you.' 'I'll name my kid after you,' and stuff like that."
— Chris Yandle (@ChrisYandle) January 10, 2014
Darryl Revels is a 50-year-old former assistant high school basketball coach in Phoenix. He works as an electronics technician and is also a huge USC fan. He believes Jackson is the key to the Trojans' returning to greatness under Steve Sarkisian.
That's why Revels, under the Twitter handle @DarrylRebs50, has made it a goal to do everything he can to make sure Jackson feels the love from USC fans. He's got only about 140 tweets since he launched his account in early December, but more than 80 of them have been recruiting pitches to Jackson.
"I'm not sure if it impacts him at all," Revels said. "But I believe fans feel like they're helping their schools out. I'm an emotional and intense person who has seen USC get the shaft, so that's why I tweet to Adoree'. I don't believe I've upset him with anything I've said. His L.A. swagger and personality is tailor-made for USC, not LSU or these other schools. I feel like SC has a better education, immediate playing time, a great track and field program and great new staff."
Revels is aware it's against NCAA rules to interact with recruits and would stop immediately if asked to. He also understands the concern from coaches that the wrong message about a program could be passed along by fans through social media to prospects.
"If USC coaches feel that way, I would stop immediately," Revels said. "I definitely don't want to hurt USC any more than it already has been. But I would be elated if just one of my tweets to him made a difference for USC."
Revels' passion for his favorite program isn't isolated to just USC. Recruits all over the country are getting contacted on a daily basis by fans of schools big and small. Revels mostly touts USC in his tweets, but he'll also take aim at other schools Jackson is considering, including Florida and Tennessee.
And it's those tweets that concern coaches.
"I'm going to sound biased, but I'm even more appalled by what fans of some of our competition posts to the guys we're recruiting," said Dayne Brown, Southern Mississippi's director of high school relations. "It's just turned into a monster. People can get on there and say positive or negative things to a young person with no repercussions. I don't have the answer, but I know it's just not right."
With today's volatile world of social media, fans can hide behind a screen name and the volume of tweets directed at prospects expands exponentially minute by minute, and most coaches agree it's impossible to police.
"You see some of the kids are going to a private account to try and eliminate that, which is probably one of the smartest things you can do," TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said. "That way, you don't have anybody bugging you that you don't already know. It's probably the best thing to do. That or not have an account at all."
People @ me on twitter & say the most immature and stupid things lolThat's the approach four-star athlete John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) has taken. He's dead set against diving into social media because he seen enough strange things from fellow recruits such as his cousin, four-star offensive lineman Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).
— Cameron D. Robinson (@crobinson_68) September 6, 2013
"Damien was telling me about how some UCLA fan told him on Twitter he would name his next child Damien if he came there," Smith said. "I told him, 'Wow, that's a big commitment by that fan. He must really want you.' There are fans like that all over the place, especially on Twitter. I just didn't want to expose myself to all that crazy."
Smith's approach is uncommon, though. He is one of only three players in the top 25 of the ESPN 300 to not have an active Twitter account, and 81 of the top 100 players have active accounts and have tweeted in the past week. So do all the recruiting pitches from the fans really make a difference?
Jackson said he has learned a lot about schools and college towns from what fans send his way. But he also said he won't make his decision based on what he hears from Revels or any other fan.
Other high-profile recruits agree.
"This is my life and not theirs," No. 1 offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) said. "I would be a fool to listen to what some person I never met before says, especially some crazy fan on Twitter."