Natalie Collier was walking around the Ohio State campus prior to the Wisconsin game Sept. 28 when she heard someone call out her name.
It wasn’t a familiar voice but it was a familiar face – that of an Ohio State fan that had been in communication with Collier, the mother of OSU verbal commitment Stephen Collier, on Twitter.
“It was kind of crazy,” Collier, whose handle the social media site is @BossLadyN, told BuckeyeSports.com. “I turned around and I was like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m meeting you in person!’
“It was kind of cool to see some Twitter fans in person that recognized us, and to be able to connect with them while we were there.”
Her husband, the Rev. Stephen Collier (@RevSGCollier), took it all in stride.
“Natalie has created a following of her own,” Stephen said with a laugh. “I can only imagine she’ll be signing autographs when she gets there.”
That experience for the Collier family is becoming less and less unique these days. The parents of both recruits and players are taking to Twitter for a variety of reasons, but many agree it’s a great way to learn about schools, stay in touch with coaches, meet fans, and perhaps most importantly, to interact with other parents going through the same process.
In that vein, Twitter has accomplished exactly what the wildly popular social media platform with more than 500 million accounts attempted to do – to make the world smaller and information easier to come by, all while making it easier for people, no matter where they are, to connect on a human level.
“It’s more about friendships,” Kevin Trout (@Kevin_Trout), the father of OSU 2014 recruit Kyle Trout, said. “I’ve met some people I consider pretty good friends already that we started interacting through Twitter.”
Annie Apple (@SurvivinAmerica), the mother of freshman cornerback Eli Apple, agreed with Trout’s assessment. She has already made a number of friends through the site, which led to her meeting follower @SEAZajac among others at the Wisconsin game.
“Us meeting was one of the highlights, ever – it was just awesome,” Apple said. “If you can meet your spouse online at eHarmony or Farmers Only, you should be able to meet your BFF online, and Twitter allows you to do that.”
That is just a natural reaction for Apple, though, one of the more approachable parents on Twitter. Never shy with an opinion or a joke, Apple also tweets about her dog, Dutch, and runs a blog, and she's embraced the medium like few others.
“I’ve always enjoyed making friends out of strangers,” Apple said. “It really just connects you. I really love it. I love Buckeye Nation, of course, and you get to know another side of the fans on Twitter, where they’re people just like you’re a person. That’s what I love the most.”
Apple is not the only parent to show her sense of humor on Twitter, as Trout is a prolific poster of puns and jokes.
“Kyle, he just shakes his head,” Trout said his attempts at humor. “I think he’s going to unfollow me if I keep it up. I tweeted one and I thought it was real good, and I go in and I say, ‘Kyle, check this one out.’ He looks at it and goes, ‘The next time somebody calls me immature, I’m going to tell them to look at my dad.’
“And I had to tweet that after because I was cracking up!”
Trout and Natalie Collier have also become information sources about their sons, especially during their weekly prep football games. Both often post live stats and updates of games to keep family members, and by proxy, Buckeye Nation, in the loop.
Through it all, what is in some ways a diverse group of parents has turned into a much closer group because of Twitter. Each of the Buckeye parents seems to follow a pretty solid group of the others – a list that also includes Tim Apple (@tdabigapple), Darron Lee’s mother (@candicenbc4), Joel Hale’s mother (@dnwhit), Parris Campbell’s mother (@WoodruffShelly), Jamarco Jones’ mother (@MzUJones) and Damon Webb’s mother (@ProfessorSWebb) to name a few – as the ties between the “Buckeye family” grow deeper.
In fact, the relationships that Buckeye parents can make with one another is one of the most popular functions of the social networking site. Ohio State has had a parents’ association for the better part of a decade, and Twitter simply makes it easier for those parents from across the country to stay in touch.
“For me personally, I get a big kick out of bonding with some of the other OSU parents and have been able to connect with a lot of the recruits’ parents and even some of the current players’ parents just to make that Ohio State connection,” Natalie Collier said. “Being so far down south here and so far removed from Columbus, it’s a good way to feel connected.”
A Helpful Tool
While Twitter is in many ways a way for people to show their personality and meet like-minded people, there’s also a practical use for what has become one of the go-to news and information sources used today.
With media members constantly posting updates, quotes, stats, observations and more about the team, Twitter is a way for families to keep updated on the latest happenings as well as what is being said about the players, Ezekiel Elliott’s mother Dawn (@itz_mizdee) said.
“There’s a lot of times where I’ve gotten on Twitter, especially during fall camp, just to see what was going on because some people would be there or somehow they would get the updates (for me) to see how Ezekiel was doing,” said Elliott, who is joined on Twitter by Ezekiel’s father Stacy (@stacy_elliott).
The same can be said for the parents of recruits, who have a dual reason to keep up with what is happening online. For Natalie Collier, not only is she able to find links about everything that’s being posted about her son through Twitter, she’s able to become familiar with the writers – some known to the family, others more anonymous – who are constantly calling to talk to Stephen.
“I love being able to follow the things that are being written about my son and collect them for a scrapbook and collecting those memories for him, so when he’s an old man sitting in a rocking chair, he can kind of look back and remember these times with fond memories,” Collier said.
“Stephen gets calls every day from reporters. There’s a couple that we’ve grown to love and trust. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to who’s writing about your kid and what information is getting out there.”
In the recruiting process, it’s also particularly useful when it comes to sorting through a college choice, parents said. Though parents and recruits are limited by NCAA rules in the direct communication they can have with college coaching staffs on Twitter, following coaches, players, their families and more allows the parents to develop a fuller picture of life at a school.
“I think Twitter also allows you to get to know the staff more than you would if you didn’t have it,” said Apple, who said she also found it useful to follow coaches’ wives. “I think the biggest problem is with the NCAA is there’s so many rules that there’s nowhere for you to really form an authentic relationship with the coaches. I think Twitter allows you to do that because through Twitter you get to know them (through what they post).”
Trout added that there’s also a natural bond between parents going through what is a stressful recruiting process. As such, Trout, a constant presence on campus for games the past two seasons as well as a number of spring practices, has taken upon it himself to serve as a liaison between the parents he’s come to know on the social networking site.
“Whenever I pick up new information – we’re there all the time – I try to pass it out to the other parents because I know the kids don’t get the same information that the parents want,” Trout said. “I’ve tried to pass some of that along because we’re so close.”
That approach has been applauded by parents like the Colliers, who view Trout as a trusted figure considering the fact that his hometown of Lancaster is less than an hour from Columbus.
“They’re right there, 30 miles away from campus,” Natalie Collier said. “He and his wife and I have kind of bonded on Twitter, and I feel like he’s a resource there that is going to be a lot closer than I am to my son when he goes away. So if ever there’s a need, I’d feel comfortable being able to call Kevin and say, “Hey Kevin, I need some help. You’re 30 miles away, go check on my baby.’
“That’s really neat to be able to have that resource, and that wouldn’t be possible without social media.”
Those who follow Ohio State football and recruiting surely remember the story of Charles Eric Waugh, the OSU fan who gained access to some players and recruits through Twitter despite his status as a registered sex offender.
That story was enough to give pause to the parents of some recruits in the 2013 class – the decommitment of linebacker Alex Anzalone came after he was photographed with Waugh during a campus visit – but that doesn’t seem to be the case among most parents.
“It didn’t bother me,” Elliott said. “I know my son wasn’t having any crazy interactions. I monitor everything close, but you get all types (of people).”
In fact, many of parents said they first entered the Twitter universe to keep tabs on what their kids were doing online.
Pretty much every recruit – heck, every high school kid – is active and savvy when it comes to social networking, and most parents just want to make sure that what is happening with their kids online is above board in every way.
“It was our way to monitor that activity and obviously look for the bad people that might be out there looking to get after kids,” Natalie Collier said. “We’ve always been a part of their social media life, if you will, and as the recruiting process has kind of evolved, we were already there.”
It’s a two-way street. Dawn Elliott said she first got on Twitter to make sure her children, including Ezekiel, weren’t posting anything that could reflect badly on themselves or the family. On the other hand, if the tweets players are receiving are concerning, it’s easy to disengage, especially considering the medium is less personal than giving out a cell phone number or a Facebook friend invite.
“Twitter and really any social media is what you make it,” Natalie Collier said. “If you want it to be a friend, it can be a friend. If you want to be a critic, it’ll definitely be a critic. At any point, you can turn it off.”
To this point, though, the parents of many Ohio State players have found it to be a useful resource. The process of joining the Ohio State football family can be a long one, but it is now one made easier thanks to tools like Twitter.
“You get to do it in the time that works for you,” Annie Apple said. “You don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s whenever you want, and it’s really awesome. I think it’s made our Buckeye family that much closer, the parents as well as the coaches.
“It’s a family, but it’s a familiar that you have to culture and nurture, and I think Twitter allows you to do that.”