Here’s a look at Michigan State football’s 2020 schedule. The Spartans open at home vs. Northwestern on Sept. 5, and finish at Maryland on Nov. 28.
It has become a social media rallying cry for Michigan State’s football program. The #21BuiltStrong hashtag, accompanied by a short video of a Spartan football player dragging a hammer across a concrete wall.
If you happen to be one of the 63,000-plus individuals who follow MSU coach Mel Tucker on Twitter, chances are you’ve become familiar with how the program announces another verbal commitment.
“It’s our way of getting everyone to rally behind a common mindset,” said Geoff Martzen, who serves as chief of staff and oversees recruiting operations for MSU. “It all stems from Coach (Tucker) and the culture he’s installed here.”
The #21BuiltStrong hashtag is one example of how MSU’s new staff have embraced today’s digital-first culture and have utilized social media as a recruiting tool.
New football coach Mel Tucker addresses Michigan State fans during MSU vs. Maryland, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
When Tucker was named MSU’s 25th head football coach February 12, he faced an uphill battle in building out a full staff, as well as his first recruiting class. At the time, MSU did not have a single verbal commitment for the 2021 class. As the football staff began to take shape, Tucker made a point to deliver a simple, yet powerful message to every member of his staff.
“He challenged us to become the standard in every facet of the organization,” said Martzen, who served as the director of player personnel under Tucker at Colorado in 2019. “That includes everything we do on social media.”
[ Making sense of Michigan State’s unexpected recruiting momentum ]
Those who follow Tucker on social media have seen the innovative approach he has brought to Michigan State. This includes everything from hosting live Q&A sessions on his social media pages, to showing off his impressive sneaker collection on Twitter with a weekly #SneakerSaturday post.
According to ESPN recruiting guru Tom VanHaaren, the innovative approach Tucker has taken on social media has helped MSU land 12 commits over the past month.
“That’s the way recruits learn and visualize now … through social media,” VanHaaren said. “If you’re a college football coach and you’re not active on social media, you’re falling behind.
[ Spartan dogs: Meet the labs helping to create Mel Tucker’s new workspace ]
“In this day-and-age, almost every Power 5 program has great facilities and strong academics, so now it really comes down to relationships and how comfortable that player feels with the coaching staff. When a recruit can go to a coach’s Twitter page and see that he’s posting about sneakers, or about his family, that’s relatable for an 18 year-old kid.”
This was the case for Kevin Wigenton, a three-star guard who verbally committed to the Spartans on April 27 without taking an in-person visit. Wigenton, who attends the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, has never visited the state of Michigan, but the energy Tucker and his new staff have brought to the program, as well as an impressive virtual visit on Zoom, that let him know MSU was the perfect landing spot.
“When Coach Tucker got hired, I immediately noticed a new type of energy from the entire coaching staff,” Wigenton said. “He laid out a path and his vision for me. I was able to relate to him and felt confident that he was going to be able to help me succeed and get me to the NFL.”
[ Kevin Wigenton loved Rutgers. Here’s why he left N.J. ]
Shortly after taking his virtual visit, Wigenton notified the staff he was ready to commit to MSU. His first call was to offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic, who had been Wigenton’s main contact throughout his recruitment. Kapilovic relayed the message to the staff, who then put their plan in motion and delivered several customized graphics to Wigenton to announce his commitment on social media.
Wigenton described every graphic he received as “really cool,” but ultimately decided on the one that featured his name and photo, accompanied by a message that reads “Welcome to the Juice Squad,” which is a new name the Spartan’s offensive line has adopted.
Martzen leads a team made up of seven individuals, five full-time staff members and two student interns, dedicated to creating content specifically for football. Part of the team’s work-flow includes generating customized graphics and video assets, and delivering them to recruits to announce both offers and commitments.
Michigan State’s new head football coach Mel Tucker leaves the airport after arriving on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, at the Capital Region International Airport in Lansing. (Photo: Nick King, Lansing State Journal)
“Our goal in doing this is to provide recruits with the content and alleyways to be able to brand themselves effectively,” Martzen said.
To accomplish that goal Michigan State has partnered with INFLCR, a company that helps athletic programs and their athletes build a social media brand and presence through content delivery. MSU was one of the first programs in the Big Ten to partner with INFLCR, which now has more than 600 college athletic teams activated on their app.
“What’s great about (Michigan State) is that they’ve really embraced this partnership to a point where they act like their own media company, investing resources to be able to edit and produce their own content,” said INFLCR founder and CEO Jim Cavale. “In return, this helps athletes build a personal brand and collectively gives MSU a much bigger audience to reach.”
Just last week,
Recently, the NCAA’s top governing body announced they support a proposal to allow college athletes to sign endorsement contracts and receive payment for other work. This is provided the schools they attend are not involved in any of the payments, however, student athletes would be allowed to appear in advertisements that reference their sport and school, which would include social media advertisements.
It’s unclear what type of direct effect this could have on recruiting, but that has not stopped MSU’s football staff from addressing these topics with recruits. In fact, Martzen is confident the topic of “which school will be best equipped to help athletes build their personal brand” will eventually be the top decision-maker for many recruits going forward.
“It’s something we’re already preparing for because we’re talking about real money, and not much will sell better than that,” Martzen said. “You have to be able to show kids that you’re going to give them every opportunity to effectively create a brand for themselves that will potentially create an income stream, even well after they’re done playing football.”
According to Martzen, the goal is for Michigan State to become “the standard” for the entire country when it comes to creating content on social media.
“We have to be a team that people look at and say to themselves, ‘if we’re going to do social media right, we’re going to do it like Michigan State,’ ” Martzen said. “We want teams to reach out to us, to figure out the way we’re doing things.
“That’s the culture installed throughout the entire program.”