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Twitter trolls want to use young people to get into the recruiting business

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OU mascot Boomer wave a flag in front of fans during the Red River Rivalry college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Texas Longhorns (UT) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. Oklahoma won 55-17. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman  ORG XMIT: KOD
OU mascot Boomer wave a flag in front of fans during the Red River Rivalry college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Texas Longhorns (UT) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. Oklahoma won 55-17. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

The sophomore football player at Hartshorne High School saw the Twitter handle and was curious. Hartshorne coach Jeff Beare saw the handle and was alarmed. Hartshorne superintendent Jason Lindley saw the handle and was mad.

Rivals. The brand that over two decades has become synonymous with football recruiting.

The Hartshorne player – who is not being named because he’s considered an innocent victim of a scam – was encouraged via Twitter to transfer to the bigger McAlester High School, 15 miles away, in southeastern Oklahoma, so that recruiters could more easily scout him.

And it initially angered Lindley. “It’s especially painful to think that Rivals may not give our kids the rankings they deserve just because we’re a ‘small school,’” Lindley said. “The whole recruiting process is about the adults much more than the kids.”

That’s why Lindley called me. And I called my pal Carey Murdock, who for almost 20 years has operated the OU Rivals website. What Murdock unearthed was the seamy side of college recruiting.

The Twitter handle was RivalsOklahoma, which is not associated in any form with the national Rivals organization. It obviously was a Twitter troll, seeking to engage unsuspecting players who might be swayed by the Rivals tag.

RivalsOklahoma told the Hartshorne player that recruiters are “begging to compare level of competition. The new head coach at McAlester loves to score points and I’m sure you would be his main feature in his offense. I personally know that all of the state schools, d2’s, Houston Baptist, Central Arkansas, Iowa St, and a few others have stopped in McAlester recently. Have they stopped by Hartshorne?”

Unfortunately, the player did engage in conversation with the slimeball. To his credit, the player also showed his coach.

“The relationship we try to have with our kids is exactly how this played out,” Beare said. “It was awesome that he came to me. That’s what we hang our hat on here, good relationships with the kids.”

When I first saw RivalsOklahoma handle, I knew it wasn’t from Murdock and I figured it was fraudulent. I thought it might be just someone from McAlester, trying to build up the Buffaloes. But Murdock soon figured out the same Twitter handle was contacting players throughout the state, trying to make recruiting contacts.

New McAlester coach Forrest Mazey was aghast that the Buffaloes were mentioned in the tweet. He says he prefers his players not get involved with people who claim they can help with the recruiting process. “I tell my kids to say away from those damn things,” Mazey said. “It’s too big a money-maker.”

Rivals is owned by Yahoo, and Murdock said Yahoo officials, via Twitter, got the troll to change his handle. Murdock sent out his own warning via Twitter.

Alas, Murdock says this kind of deception is becoming more common, particularly in the Dalllas area. The recruiting thirst for players seeking scholarships is strong, and families grab hold of any perceived help.

“We’ve known this stuff has been going behind the scenes for a long time,” Murdock said. “People looking to get in that business.”

Murdock offers advice. Parents seeking more exposure for their son or daughter should adequately assess the talent level, then put the athlete in a corresponding summer camp run by college coaches. In other words, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound linebacker probably is wasting his time at the OU football camp. But North Texas? Arkansas State? Maybe not.

Back in Hartshorne, Lindley is just glad his student didn’t succumb even more to the Twitter temptations.

“Seeing the Rivals name, it probably did give it some legitimacy,” Lindley said. “It’s a huge problem for our kids.”

And the troll wasn’t even telling the truth. Those colleges mentioned have been to Hartshorne. Hartshorne has produced an NFL player, OU’s Caesar Rentie from the 1980s. Rentie’s nephew, Josh Rentie, just signed to play football at Division II power Pittsburg State.

But the recruiting allure is strong, be it for colleges or even the high school level. And there are lowlifes that want a piece of your kid. Beware.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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