AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) had chocolate-covered strawberries, drizzled in the design of miniature footballs, delivered from his parents for his 22nd birthday last Saturday. Then after thumping Auburn, Murray and his teammates celebrated back in Athens with a trip to Waffle House.
Vanderbilt signal-caller Jordan Rodgers (@JRodgers11) snagged a balcony seat at the Country Music Awards, Auburn quarterback Jonathan Wallace (@JWall_4) spends so much time at the football complex he wishes he had a bed to collapse into, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron (@10AJMcCarron) enjoys communicating with the ladies en masse.
These are all tidbits fans can discover on the official pages of 12 SEC quarterbacks on Twitter, the social media platform exploding into everyday life as a whole new way of reaching out to everybody from celebrities to next-door neighbors.
College football coaches admit they’re wary of their players’ interaction on Twitter, where one can release some uncensored thoughts to the “Twitterverse” at the push of a button.
“Certainly, it’s something that’s been controversial,” Auburn @CoachGeneChizik said. “We just try to educate our guys on the fact that Twitter is something you’ve got to be very careful with. If we have a young man that we feel like is getting out of control with that, then we’ll take that away from him as an option.”
Florida State and Iowa have banned their players altogether from Twitter, but USC published its players’ handles on its preseason depth chart – illustrating the wide spectrum of philosophies toward embracing or denouncing the forum.
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” said Ole Miss @CoachHughFreeze, who is extremely active on Twitter with more than 29,000 followers. “It can be a very good tool, depending upon how it’s used. I think it’s been a great thing for me and the relationship-building here, for us to get our message out of who we are and what our core values are. A lot of our kids have taken that to heart, too.
“Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and makes you question whether it should be a part of your program. It can also be very discouraging to read some of the things you see on there. I want kids to understand that could prevent them from getting a job one day. I’ve asked a few to get off of it.”
Georgia coach @MarkRicht lays no Twitter restrictions up front with his players, except they have to shut it off beginning after dinner on Friday night preceding a football game.
“You do have to trust them. We haven’t had anything horrific happen. For the most part, it doesn’t become problematic,” Richt said. “It’s just the way people communicate nowadays, so I don’t want to sit here and strangle that with our players. I want them to have a relatively normal life. It’s more important to teach them how to manage it than shut it down.”
Then there’s South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who disbands the Gamecocks’ use of Twitter during the season.
When star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury, a litany of support went viral to @LattTwoOne, yet Lattimore — who showed his appreciation in public comments — could not and did not respond once from his account.
“What can you ever gain by putting your business on the street?” Spurrier reasoned. “The bad outweighs the good.”
At Arkansas, director of football operations Mark Robinson (@CoachMRobinson) follows every player on Twitter, and the Razorbacks sign a preseason sheet declaring they’ll represent their team responsibly on social media.
LSU and Missouri train their players to understand every tweet or picture they send out is no different than a 15-second press conference.
Auburn sophomore Kiehl Frazier, who started the Tigers’ first five games, shut down his Twitter account the week before the season began.
Texas A&M freshman phenomenon Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) picked up more than 5,000 new followers in three days after the Aggies upset top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
USC’s @MattBarkley became the first college athlete to have his account verified, to prove his account actually belongs to him. Many parody accounts fool followers into thinking that’s the real player — including a fake account with nearly 1,300 followers attributed to LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, not an active Twitter user.
“It’s a new way of communicating,” LSU coach Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) said. ”I think it’s an opportunity for people to not be accountable and speak in wide exaggerations. The positives of the use of social media will be defined as we go forward.”
Many universities, including Auburn and several of its SEC counterparts, use software services like UDiligence and Varsity Monitor that flag certain terms or phrases to alert team officials of players sending controversial or obscene tweets.
Chizik doesn’t believe in completely banning his team from Twitter, but obviously gets worried about players airing out their dirty laundry, particularly if it’s football-related.
“Doesn’t matter what kind of year you’re having,” Chizik said. ”Nobody out there on anybody’s football team should be talking about anything that sheds a negative light on anybody’s program.”
Within the past week, Auburn safety @DemetruceMcNeal and running back Mike Blakely (@941_blakely_22) each sent strange tweets that could have been perceived as announcing they were leaving the program. McNeal tweeted “Got some bad news today wonder what is next for me but jus know ima speak my mind” and “bottom line I’m gone” Tuesday, whereas Blakely on Sunday tweeted “up bored spending my last days in AU wisely! change is coming in my life but I know God has my back no matter what!”
On the other hand, Wallace’s account is squeaky-clean, regularly scrubbed with Bible phrases and inspirational messages.
“I really like to stay positive and keep the fans into it. Just trying to be that light, that small light at the end of the tunnel,” Wallace said. “I don’t really say much. But when I do say something, it’s very meaningful.”
Even though he’s very new to the regional and national limelight, Wallace is quite cognizant that these days, fans hang on every word they read from their heroes — whether it’s expressed at a postgame podium or on a Twitter timeline.
“Whatever you put out there, it’s out there,” Wallace said. ”There’s no taking it back, so you have to be very, very careful about what you put out there on the Internet.”
Who’s who on Twitter, with their stats as of 6 p.m. Wednesday
School | Starting QB | Twitter handle | Tweets | Followers
Georgia | Aaron Murray | @aaronmurray11 | 2,949 | 54,512
Alabama | AJ McCarron | @10AJMcCarron | 2,521 | 51,322
Texas A&M | Johnny Manziel | @JManziel2 | 2,114 | 46,536
Tennessee | Tyler Bray | @tbrayvol8 | 719 | 34,747
Arkansas | Tyler Wilson | @Tyler_Wilson8 | 67 | 28,054
Florida | Jeff Driskel | @jeffdriskel | 764 | 14,412
Missouri | James Franklin | @JFrankTank1 | 4,522 | 11,173
Mississippi State | Tyler Russell | @Tyler17Russell | 1,254 | 11,085
Vanderbilt | Jordan Rodgers | @JRodgers11 | 975 | 8,075
Ole Miss | Bo Wallace | @bowallace14 | 291 | 7,279
Auburn | Jonathan Wallace | @JWall_4 | 3,997 | 3,402
Kentucky | Jalen Whitlow | @JWhitlow_2 | 8,381 | 2,175
**LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw are not on Twitter**