The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

February 10, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: With social media, punters are stars too

MORGANTOWN — “If I get to 100,000 followers... I will lose hope in humanity... BUT, and that’s a big BUT, I will be very thankful 4 you beautiful (b------)”

– Recent tweet from former West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee, now punter with the Indianapolis Colts and Indianapolis radio personality

Pat McAfee does not run with a football. He does not pass it. Seldom is he asked to tackle anyone.

He did not gain the fame of Pat White or a Geno Smith or a Tavon Austin in college, yet he has emerged as a social media darling, by far the most popular of all those connected with the West Virginia University Mountaineers, and he’s done it because of an off-the-wall personality (two years ago he was arrested for swimming drunk in a city canal) that has translated into a popular radio show.

Social media has changed the way we deal with our athletes, brought them closer to us, made them more personal, even better known than they were. It is a gauge of popularity by the number of followers, but that can be misleading depending upon how they use it, but it has allowed them to get feedback from fans on how they behave, what they do, what they say.

And among the WVU athletes and coaches, McAfee stands alone in his following, which stood at 99,817 as of Saturday, which more than doubled the next highest figure for a Mountaineer athlete.

Part of the social media lure of McAfee is that he’s liable to say anything and his observations are completely off the wall, but there is also a certain goodness that comes through in McAfee, the kind that tells you no matter how off center he may seem, he is a basically decent person.

Take the introduction to his Twitter page:

“Welcome to the party. I kick balls and entertain folks. Life’s good brother. Feel free to checkout/donate to my foundation. http://www.ThePatMcAfeeFoundation.com”

According to the website, the Pat McAfee Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing scholarship assistance to the sons and daughters of U.S military personnel, which is not only a wonderful cause but one that is often overlooked.

McAfee even put the endless hype over recruiting classes in its place with a series of Tweets on signing day:

• “I understand bloggers need something 2 make themselves feel relevant but it all changes once players are lined up against other 2-5 stars”

• “Pat White, Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud, Owen Schmitt, and Reed Williams taught me that.. Dudes smoked “5 Stars” on a consistent basis”

• “Happy these kids are getting their school paid 4. They should be getting paid more. But just cuz you dominated HS kids means nothing in D1”

By now, you are wondering who stands No. 2 in popularity and again you might not have guessed it, but it goes to show the influence of the NFL on America.

With 43,002 Twitter followers is Bruce Irvin, who went from

WVU to the Seattle Seahawks as a surprise first-round draft pick and has become one of the Seahawks’ most popular players … and one who has not forgotten what WVU did for him.

He had escaped from a background that seemed to be leading him to nothing but trouble, wound up in a junior college after a run-in with the law, was recruited at WVU and made his mark to the point that he became a star.

He has not forgotten.

“Trying to reach the top because it’s too crowded at the bottom. #WVU #EatinGreedy #12thman,” reads the introduction to his Twitter page.

And then there are such Tweets as:

“Shout out to @CoachGalloway7 on coming back home! #WVU

“Still like Huggy better in the sweats”

“As long as my family, 12th man and the state of WV believes in me trust me I have no worries!”

Third and fourth most popular and keeping with the NFL theme is Steve Slaton, the one-time running back (38,416) and Anthony Becht (33,229), the former tight end who has a varied background as his introduction states:

“Husband, Father, 12-year NFL Player, Jets, Bucs, Rams, AZ, Chiefs. Played at WVU. Co-host Bucs Pre & PostGame Show @620WDAE, @HSN on-air guest for Football Fan Shop.”

And as for remembering his WVU roots, this is one of his recent Tweets:

“Who says you can’t have a #WV #WestVirginia Hot Dog in #Tampa! Home Made”

It was accompanied with a picture of two hot dogs with the works.

Adam “Pac Man” Jones has 28,630 followers while football coach Dana Holgorsen checks in with 26,251, a few more than Bob Huggins has at 22,041.

But Huggins’ Facebook Page has 33,125 “Likes” and comments suck as “Good game tonight, TCU went down. Oh and bye the way, love that fundraiser commercial, frickn PITT !!” or “Coach just wanted to drop a line and say thank you it was real classy of you to try to call Dave Toombs while he was in the hospital and then send condolences to his family.”

Among the most recent players, wide receiver Stedman Bailey is tops with 21,344, followed by Da’Sean Butler with 21,215 and Kevin Jones with 15,555.

Quarterbacks Patrick White had 9,567 and Geno Smith 9,400 while Jon Kimble, the Mountaineer mascot, had 5,910 followers on Twitter.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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