Getting the (text) message


Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Back in football recruiting's Stone Age, say 10 or 15 years ago, sending an overnight packet to a prospect was considered cutting-edge technology.
Now, of course, it is ancient and archaic stuff. Sort of like a phone that's actually attached to the wall.
Why overnight a letter when you can send one instantly. From anywhere. No strings (or wires) attached.
This is what Florida coach Urban Meyer does virtually every day to numerous prospects during recruiting season (which is now stretching across the calendar).
This wireless world in which we live has provided Meyer and other coaches with a new and effective recruiting tool: the text message.
Using a cell phone or computer, Meyer can tap out a message and instantly send it to a recruit, who receives the text on his cell phone (and, yes, every prospect has a cell phone these days).
Based on what the prospects are saying, Meyer must have pretty nimble typing fingers by now.
"He text messages me all the time, basically every day," Union County tailback C.J. Spiller said. "He'll just say, 'Hi', and that he wants me to be a Gator and he'll wish me luck if I've got a basketball game that night, just stuff like that. It's pretty cool."
Text messaging has become a popular method of communicating with recruits. Not only does it give coaches a limitless opportunity to pass information along and try and sell their program, it apparently is helping them establish relationships with the players they are recruiting.
Pam Tebow, the mother of UF recruit Tim Tebow (who is already enrolled in classes at Florida), said Meyer text messaged her son on a daily basis for months leading up to Tebow's commitment to the Gators in December.
"I'm sure it was daily. I'm not sure how many times a day," Pam Tebow said. "Text messaging is right there. Timmy got text messages from all the coaches that were recruiting him, especially those left in the mix in the end (Meyer, Alabama's Mike Shula, USC's Pete Carroll, LSU's Les Miles and Michigan's Lloyd Carr). The assistant coaches (at Florida) would text him too. There might be some general ones, but most of them were personal and you could tell they were."
Pam Tebow said Meyer and the UF assistants even sent text messages to her husband Bob Tebow.
Suwannee linebacker Dustin Doe, who committed to the Gators back in June, said he always looked forward to the many text messages he received from Meyer. He said he hasn't heard from Meyer lately via a text message because he's in the process of getting a new cell phone and has been without one.
"It's nice to look on your phone and having Coach Meyer asking questions about what's going on in your life and how are you living your life," Doe said. "I would receive text messages from him daily. All of them were memorable. They were every day conversations, nothing out of the ordinary, but they helped establish a relationship.
"I've talked to the other (UF commitments) and they all say they enjoy getting text messages from Coach Meyer and they look forward to them."
Text messaging has become so popular among college coaches (football and basketball alike) that the NCAA has had to address it. In 2004, an NCAA subcommittee voted to treat text messages like letters instead of phone calls.
Unlike phone calls, there is no limit to the number of letters a coach or school can send a prospect. As a result, coaches are text messaging recruits on a regular basis, sometimes daily. If recruits respond to text messages, it's almost as if there is a conversation going on between the prospect and coach.
Bobby Burton, the publisher of Rivals.com, said Meyer and his staff are among the nation's best at using the new technology to assist in recruiting.
"The cell phone has been particularly huge for some programs and Florida is in the middle of it," Burton said. "It's a new distribution avenue where you can get your word out about your school and your program. Some schools haven't taken complete advantage of it the way Florida has.
"Through text messaging and instant messages (on a computer), you can basically carry on a conversation with a recruit."
From the recruit's perspective, reading text messages is optional.
Scott Kennedy, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said Mitch Mustain, the nation's top-rated quarterback prospect, became so deluged with text messages recently that he turned off the feature on his cell phone.
"If a kid welcomes contact then so be it. It's a great way to communicate with a prospect," Kennedy said. "If guys are being bothered by it, they can just turn it off like Mitch Mustain did. It's not real hard."
It's not real hard to type and send, either.
"I'm an older guy and obviously a little technologically challenged like most of us at this age," Florida recruiting coordinator Chuck Heater, 53, recently told The Associated Press. "But obviously it's not so far out there that you can't figure it out. Since we've got it, it's become a great means of communication."
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

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