EAST RIDGE, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Now entering his second season at East Ridge, Tracy Malone knows much more about his football team than he did twelve months ago.
The veteran coach found quick success connecting with his players at practice and in school, but also ventured online to use social media to learn more about his roster.
Suddenly, he discovered more than most of his players would like him to know.
"It's been weird for me. I just got into Twitter and all my players say I "Twitter-stalk" them," Malone said at the recent District 6-AA media day. "I guess I probably shouldn't put on TV that Mike (Knox) is in love big-time. He talks about his girlfriend a lot on there."
Though color was quickly rushing to his face, Knox was able to brush off the jabs from his head coach. The Pioneers' linebacker his teammates have grown used to Malone using Twitter fodder as light-hearted verbal jabs in workouts.
"He'll talk about what me and my girlfriend say to each other on Twitter a lot," Knox said with a grin. "I don't really have any problems with it because he's just making jokes, but it did make me start thinking about how they're not just looking at us on the field, they're looking at our personal life, too."
And when Knox says "they," he means a far wider audience than just his East Ridge coaching staff.
That thought is far from a laughing matter to two-way lineman C.J. baker, who learned first-hand the possible problems social media can cause for prospective college athletes.
"We had about 25 schools come through in the spring, and obviously he stands out," Malone said of his offensive tackle. "He's 6-5 and everybody and their mother likes him and thinks he could play college ball, but I had one school say they saw some stuff he put on Twitter and they didn't know if they liked that."
Considering the investments universities make in their athletes, college coaches take every chance they can find to learn about a recruit's personal life and personality, making social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram huge recruiting and research tools for weeding out potential problems.
ESPN college football reporter Joe Schaad actually addressed the issue on his Twitter page Monday, noting: "One ACC coach said he dropped recruit for language on Twitter. Told position coach: 'He's gonna get you on ESPN and it won't be for a TD.'"
Too often coaches find student-athletes who are too free with their thoughts, vocabulary and images, as well as their off-the-field behavior.
"I didn't know anything about colleges looking at it, but it made sense to me when coach told me," Baker said. "I immediately went on there and changed everything. My tweets have been better. I don't tweet about stupid stuff anymore."
Like Malone, many local prep coaches have turned to social media as a way to monitor their players. However, that comes with its own set of challenges.
"I don't personally follow my kids, but I know plenty of people who follow them. I know if they say something stupid," said Red Bank head coach E.K. Slaughter. "It's tough. It's a double-edged sword because if you follow them, that's a lot to police.
"If you are holding them to the standard they should be held to, you're going to have a problem with a lot that they put out there."
Even those coaches who are not on social media, like Hixson's Jason Fitzgerald, are aware of the potential problems and consequences. Most have worked to take a proactive approach, starting the social media conversation before one of their players becomes an example of what not to do.
"We talk all the time about doing the right thing and saying the right thing," Fitzgerald said. "It's really easy to do that when the coaches are there, but how are you going to act when the coaches are not there."
The on-going saga of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has served as a perfect example for the lack of privacy athletes have in this new digital age, but the Heisman trophy-winner arguably hasn't helped himself by his conduct and social media presence.
The same goes for Alabama recruit Dee Liner, who stirred up controversy over the weekend after posting a photo on Instagram in which he and two friends posed with huge amounts of cash.
Some players, like Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, decide it's best to simply eliminate the opportunity for a misstep. He announced Monday he is shutting down his Twitter page completely to "avoid distractions" during the season.
However, for those who decide to continue the conversation online, coaches hope that common sense and self-restraint will ultimately prevail.
"They just have to realize what they do is permanent. You may delete it, but there's no taking it back," said Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes. "It's like (ESPN NFL analyst) Herm Edwards said, 'Don't press send.'
"Once you press send, it's out there and there is nothing you can do about it."
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