You can find just about anything on YouTube. Teenagers re-creating famous movie scenes. A hysterical Britney Spears fan. Even a water-skiing squirrel.
And if you're a college football coach, maybe your future starting running back.
YouTube has become a useful tool for high school players looking to get noticed and coaches searching for players who otherwise might fly under the radar.
"YouTube helps us out a lot," said Sean Hull, a senior center-nose guard for River Hill. "We know coaches get tapes mailed to them and hundreds of e-mails a day saying, 'Hey, Coach, I sent you my highlight tape.' So instead of reading hundreds of paragraphs like that, it's, 'Coach, check out my highlight tape.' And all he has to do is click the link."
Hull, an All-Metro player this past season, had received little interest from college coaches before turning to YouTube but now is being recruited by several Division I schools, including West Virginia.
"The middle-of-the-road kids have to put themselves out there," River Hill assistant coach Attilio Campanaro said. "They can't wait. They might think they're going to be found, but they're not because there are so many. They have to get the video out where coaches will see it."
Campanaro's son Michael, a two-time All-Metro running back who signed with Wake Forest yesterday, decided to put his clips up for fun as a sophomore after seeing Noel Devine, a high school player from Florida who is now a star at West Virginia, do it.
"I was putting my clips up there [on YouTube] just to put them up so people could watch them," Campanaro said. "But then my dad had a great idea, and it became a resource. Instead of posting them once every three weeks, I upped it to after games on Friday nights and copied the link to e-mails and sent them to coaches so they could watch anywhere, like in airports, on their way to their games.
"The coaches at Wake Forest, where I'm going next year, said it was a great help."
Wake Forest is not alone in embracing the Internet as a recruiting tool. Ryan Steinberg, the University of Maryland assistant recruiting coordinator for football, said his school recently established its own Internet site called Terptape.com, where players can upload videos.
As Steinberg was talking about the new site with a reporter, his computer notified him that a player at Madison High in Orange, Va., had just uploaded a film clip.
"We do go to sites like YouTube," Steinberg said. "They do help the coaching staff hunting down tapes. It's the transition in our society. Everything is going to the Internet. It's so quick. A kid can play a game Friday night, go home, cut out his clips and e-mail them the same night. No more waiting to burn a DVD. ... And our coaching staff is always looking for kids a little under the radar."
A record 7,429,381 kids are participating in high school athletics this year, with 1,108,286 playing football, according to a September report by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
"Recruiting is haphazard at best," said Terry Massey, director of communications for Offense-Defense Sports, an organization that runs football camps and also is involved in player marketing at youtube.com/highschoolfootball. "Who gets noticed? Who gets seen? Who gets a scholarship? After the top 100, it's just a crapshoot."
Recognizing the player's need to break out of the pack, companies such as Rivals.com, Scout.com and O-D Sports have become middle men. They offer players a place to send their videos to be uploaded on the Internet, where they potentially can be seen by thousands of coaches.
"Players can create their own Web sites, with video, letters of recommendation and grade-point averages, anything they believe will help build a case for their recruitment," said Massey, noting the service is free. "And we've come up with the 'Hidden 100 list' of kids who aren't on the radar but should be."
Not everyone is enamored of the YouTube method, however. Howard coach Bruce Strunk said he doesn't go that route because YouTube is among the sites blocked from the computers at the school. And at Loyola, coach Brian Abbott said he would much rather send the tape and follow up with a phone call.
"I like to have the verbal dialogue with the coach," said Abbott, who said he hears from more than 100 coaches who come through the area or call inquiring about his players. "I want to know what the coach is telling the player, and I want to ask the hard questions that a kid hoping for a scholarship doesn't feel comfortable asking. Every school [college] has to be the prettiest girl. One of the best things a coach can do is protect his kids."