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Special Report: Football recruiting goes social

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Every time Carver's Jeremy Johnson taps the screen on his smart phone 3,500 people - his Twitter followers - can read it.

"The social media, it's a good thing," Johnson admits, "But then it's bad at times," he quickly added.

Auburn High School's Reuben Foster, who just re-committed Monday night to the University of Alabama, has more than 12,000 Twitter followers.

Alabama State University head football coach Reggie Barlow played for 8 years in the National Football League, before social media. As a player, he didn't have to deal with today's "instant access."

A lot of the high school athletes, they're instant stars," Barlow says. "Their lives are captured by so many people and fans that we to be involved."

And involved they are.

When you look at Reuben Foster's Twitter feed, it doesn't take long to find fans from all over the Southeastern Conference who want Foster to come to their school. Georgia, LSU, Florida, Auburn and Alabama.

"People just tweet me every time, every day," Foster admits. "Every minute of the day." And it's not always "Rated G", especially when Foster flipped his commitment last year from Alabama to Auburn.

"It got out of line before Alabama to Auburn," the prized football recruit said. "Then from Auburn back to undecided, it got out of line. Trust me. Ain't nothing pretty about that rivalry."

Alabama's "Mister Football", Jeremy Johnson, also finds himself the target on Twitter. Auburn fans are happy he's on his way to the Plains, but fans of other schools: not so much.

"Now they're mad...but they don't understand. It's hard choosing a school," he revealed.

"Some fans have negative things to say about you," Johnson explains. "Some have good things to say about you at a point in time. You just have to shut it down. It's a part of growing up, and you have to keep away from it and just deal with it."

The coaches who spend months, and even years, recruiting these blue-chippers are scrambling to keep up.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn says social media is changing things. "I think as coaches, you've just got to be up-to-date on everything," he explained of his role beyond the sideline.

"It's a factor you better embrace," warns Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. "If not, you're going to get worn down by it."

Competition is fierce.

"I want to do whatever it takes, within the guidelines of the NCAA rules, to make Troy up-to-date and current," Trojans head coach Larry Blakeney says. As for social media? "I think that may be part of it," Blakeney admits.

Even the NCAA is changing it rules in an effort to adapt to the times. Beginning in August, the collegiate athletics governing body will eliminate recruiting restrictions on communication. That means phone calls and text messages are to become unlimited.

"I'm pretty sure the college coaches are going to love unlimited talk and text," Johnson says.

"You know at Alabama they're going to have about 15 people who ain't doing nothing but texting," Blakeney believes. "The big-time schools are going to have more resources to do whatever."

But Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, perhaps one of the last Twitter hold-outs, isn't so sure.

"I think it's always important to be able to communicate. I think it's a fine line between how much you need to communicate to be effective at doing it, how much attention somebody really needs to get and when it should start," Saban says.

"What I've learned," ASU's Barlow admits, is that, "the student athletes, if they don't want to be recruited by you, they won't answer the phone." He goes on to explain over recruiting via phone/text is not something to worry about.  "It just gives us an opportunity to show these student athletes how much we want them."

For the Fever stars who come after Jeremy Johnson and Reuben Foster the new rules could make an already difficult decision even tougher to make.

"If you could, you would want to play at every school," Johnson says. 

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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