Aliquippa football star Dravon Henry posts messages on his Twitter account for the world to see, but is careful of what he says. He's wary of Aliquippa's Twitter police.
"We have an assistant coach, Vashawn Patrick, and he follows me and everyone on the team on Twitter," Henry said. "He, and a lot of our coaches, will tell me and all of us when we might say something wrong or bad."
But, when it comes to social media, Aliquippa is the exception more than the norm. With nobody monitoring their messages, high school athletes around the country -- high-profile players to non-starters -- are posting things on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that can cause problems for their teams or themselves.
It might be a tweet about an opponent that festers into a tense situation in a game. Or it might be a vulgar or sexually explicit "tweet" that is offensive and causes repercussions for an individual.
On top of that, guess who is monitoring Twitter and Facebook accounts more and more these days? College coaches.
A few examples:
• Last month, University of Houston football coach Tony Levine decided to stop recruiting three high school athletes because of their comments on social media.
• In 2012, Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) kicked star football player Yuri Wright out of school, and the University of Michigan withdrew its scholarship offer because of racially and sexually offensive remarks Wright made on Twitter. Wright eventually signed with the University of Colorado
• Also in 2012, Pitt withdrew a scholarship offer to Sto-Rox's Marzett Geter because of critical comments he made about Pitt on Twitter. Geter had verbally committed to the Panthers months earlier.
• Chase Winovich, a talented senior linebacker at Thomas Jefferson High School in the WPIAL, already has made a verbal commitment to Michigan. But, when he visited Ohio State this spring along with another linebacker, Ohio State ended up offering Winovich a scholarship, but not the other linebacker, who Winovich didn't want to identify.
"The other linebacker was with me," Winovich said. "When he didn't get an offer, I remember [Ohio State assistant] coach [Mike] Vrabel telling him, 'You have to get your stuff on Twitter cleaned up.'"
Just last week, Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak was a little uneasy about a game against Elizabeth Forward because of what was apparently being said by players on both teams on social-media outlets.
"Apparently, there was a lot of banter and that just leads to things that go too far," Cherpak said. "It never ends good whenever something like that goes on. It might carry over onto the field, and that's unnecessary."
Cherpak, considered one of the best coaches in the WPIAL, said neither he nor the school has a policy toward Twitter or Facebook, but a few assistant coaches and school administrators monitor both outlets. Cherpak said he hates Twitter because "it creates headaches I don't need," he said.
In fact, last season when it became apparent that Winovich was going to be recruited by Division I colleges, Cherpak suggested to him that he cancel his Twitter account. Winovich did.
"Just because too many kids can hurt themselves image-wise," Cherpak said.
"It can lead to jealousy or resentment from your teammates. It just can create so many problems a kid doesn't need. And you tell kids that once you put something out there, there is no room for error and you can't take it back. They just don't realize it."
Ryan Luther is a senior basketball player at Hampton High School who has Division I scholarship offers. He has a Twitter account but said he never tweets anything about basketball or recruiting.
"I'm always surprised at what some kids tweet," Luther said.
Colleges are watching
Chris LaSala is an assistant athletic director/director of football operations at Pitt. He has been involved with college football recruiting for decades at a few different schools and said Pitt uses Twitter and Facebook to sometimes communicate with a high school player because NCAA rules regulate face-to-face and phone contacts. But also, "any college coach will tell you these [social-media] outlets can give you a read on kids," LaSala said.
High school kids might provide recruiting information on their Twitter accounts. They might comment on how they like or dislike a school.
"You can also find out a little personality about the kid," LaSala said.
Good and bad.
Tyler Boyd was an all-everything player at Clairton and is now a starting freshman receiver at Pitt. When he was at Clairton, his Twitter posts sometimes included messages either from him, "retweets" of other messages or quotes from songs. The posts would sometimes have vulgar language or sexually explicit material.
Since Boyd has gotten to Pitt, his tweets are much different. In short, they are much cleaner.
LaSala said Pitt coach Paul Chryst has a policy for his players about Twitter and Facebook.
"Coach Chryst has a policy that I'd rather not make public," LaSala said. "But our department of life skills talks to all student-athletes about it. Our media relations, our support staff, our recruiting office are all part of a program with student-athletes and social media."
LaSala knows some high school players might hurt themselves with college coaches because of their Twitter and Facebook posts. For a good-but-not-great player, bad social-media posts might mean whether or not a college offers a scholarship.
"Sometimes, you might pull aside a [high school] kid or just tell them, 'You might want to watch what you're putting out there because you're not helping yourself,'" LaSala said. "Personally, I think it's obvious that some kids don't understand the ramifications of what they post. I think the big thing with this is maturity, and some kids mature faster than others.
"From age 14 to 18, there is a huge maturation process in their lives. Some get it and mature faster not only physically, but mentally."
Ron Everhart used to be the coach of Duquesne men's basketball team and is now an assistant at West Virginia University. When he was at Duquesne, he didn't permit his players to post messages on Twitter. He believes many kids eventually will post something they will regret.
"It was almost like it eventually never helps you or the kid," Everhart said. "A lot of times it ends up as something detrimental to the kid or his future. ... It shocks me to look at some things that people and kids put out there. You would have to believe that every athlete in the world should be intelligent enough to know that the info they post is accessible to everybody. It baffles me to no end to see what some people put out there."
Everhart said the West Virginia coaching staff monitors what current players and some potential recruits put on Facebook or Twitter.
"I think this technology has changed the whole recruiting landscape," Everhart said. "You have to monitor it. With Twitter, because it's such a real time thing, you can learn everything from what college coaches might be coming into the home of someone you're recruiting, to how a kid did in his last scrimmage game."
What the athletes say
Many people apparently are curious about what top high school players say, including WPIAL players. Shai McKenzie, a heavily-recruited running back at Washington, has 4,111 followers on Twitter, and Aliquippa's Henry 2,179.
Lenny Williams is a star quarterback at Sto-Rox who has a few Division I college scholarship offers and 557 Twitter followers.
"Some kids are on Twitter all day. I don't have time for that," Williams said. "But I kind of watch what I say now because I know recruiters pay attention to see what kind of kid you are."
Said Henry: "We're kids. We might say a cuss word sometimes. Or if you see one of the top recruits in the country use some bad words some kids might say, 'If he can say something like that, why can't I?' ... But I always try to tweet something positive. It's just a matter of respect -- respect for my parents and there might be little kids looking up to you. So you should watch what you say."
Hampton's Luther added: "I'm just surprised that kids tweet about themselves, that they're doing this or this happened to me. You don't have to tweet to make yourself look good. If you want to say something, say something nice. I think with a lot of kids, it's just a publicity thing. They're trying to show off."
Thomas Jefferson's Winovich said he believes he is one of the few players on his team who no longer has a Twitter account.
"It's probably for the best," he said. "I think it's dangerous because anything can be taken out of context and it opens your life up to people who really don't need to know. ... I know a lot of kids who spend a lot of time on Twitter. I like to funnel my time elsewhere because you don't get that time back.
"At the same time, Twitter is great if you want to spread a message. Maybe when I'm older, I'll hire someone to tweet for me."
Correction/Clarification: (Published September 13, 2013) An earlier version of this story had an inccorect first name for Tony Levine.
Mike White: email@example.com