February 20th was the day it happened.
Neto Okpala picked up his first Division I scholarship offer from Liberty University and tweeted out the news to his 682 followers. In the three months after that initial offer, the 6-foot-2 defensive end’s recruitment skyrocketed, leading to a total of 22 Division I offers from the likes of Georgia Southern, Army, Navy, Vanderbilt and Boston College.
Okpala’s experience with the recruiting process is par for the course for many high-level athletes across all sports, not just football. In the new age of digital recruiting, an offer from a large school is a signal to other schools that an athlete may be under the radar.
“When I got my first offer and tweeted it out, a whole bunch of coaches started following me and hitting me up,” Okpala said. “The next week Mercer University offered me, and I think that’s what really kicked off my recruiting. I literally got like five offers in one day and I’m just sitting in my room like ‘Man, how am I supposed to take this.’ It was a lot to take in.”
Twitter launched in 2006 and in the years since it’s exploded in popularity for the ability to post short 280-character “tweets” as well as photos and videos that can be favorited and retweeted by other users. However, the platform gained real traction around 2012 in college recruiting as a way for athletes to put up highlight clips and interact with college coaches in a way that doesn’t violate NCAA recruiting rules. It also allows coaches from all over the county get a look at an athlete they may otherwise not be able to recruit because of highlight videos being posted to an athlete’s account.
“Twitter is where all the coaches live at,” Okpala said. “It makes it so much easier for the coaches to find out who you are.”
That ability to interact and recruit athletes online became crucial in March when the entire country was shut down due to COVID-19. Athletes were forced to suspend official visits while also not being able to practice or lift at a school facility. Many athletes were forced to do what workouts they could at home.
But both athletes and coaches adapted, and the extra free time allowed coached to scour the internet more for potential players while athletes were able to fine tune their film.
Okapla, a now three-start-prospect, made his decision on June 1, with a tweet saying he was committed to Boston College.
“Before COVID-19 hit, I was supposed to make my decision off visits, but when everything shut down the NCAA, we couldn’t take visits the whole summer,” Okpala said. “I really had to think about where I wanted to go. I knew a lot of kids were going to start committing in the summer. I really had to make my decision based off research, relationship with the coaches, opportunities and academics. Boston College checked off all the boxes on my list.”
For now, Okpala is just focused on trying to play this season. As of Aug. 16, the Georgia High School Association has said the high school football season will be played despite the ongoing pandemic. However, the start of the season was pushed back two weeks from Aug. 21 to Sept. 4 to allow teams extra time to practice.
“We’ve got a deep team and guys with a lot of experience,” Okpala said. “I think we’ve got a chance at the region championship, and we want to go deep into the playoffs.” n