Social media has transformed how athletes are discovered by colleges. And vice versa.
Chesley Kinney had never heard of Western Carolina when a coach from the school direct messaged the track and field athlete on Twitter.
He catalogued his Instagram account with hurdling, running and other recruiting videos. The online magazine factory gave him a platform to display his talents and the hub of Twitter allowed the Catamounts coach to discuss a possible future with their track and field program.
“I was at work at the time, and I opened up the message and just ran through the store I was working at,” Kinney said. “I was ecstatic because I hadn’t really talked to any coaches in a positive way. Things hadn’t ended positively.”
Truett McConnell University and Piedmont College displayed interest afterwards but that’s where the list ended.
Western Carolina remained his only Division I candidate and top pick.
Once signing day on March 30 arrived, the Catamounts lost both their head coach and assistant coaches that recruited the North Hall Trojan.
“At the time, I was like OK, I don’t know if I can still go to Western,” Kinney said. “I was already committed to go, but I was like alright, I’m kind of panicking.”
Since, he’s built trust with the new coaching staff after taking several trips to Cullowhee, N.C.
“They’re great guys,” Kinney said.
Going Division I was always the dream for Kinney, but prior to Western Carolina’s recruitment of him, he knew the probability of settling for a Division II or III school was more likely.
Then came the decathlon qualifiers for the New Balance Nationals. He achieved the numbers to qualify, but that was not enough for Kennessaw State, his top choice at the time, to make him an offer.
Division I seemed out of the picture at that point.
“It was pretty crushing at the time,” Kinney said. “I have friends that run for Kennesaw State, but looking back on it now, I could kind of see maybe that wasn’t the place for me.”
Less than two weeks later, Western Carolina perused his social media profiles and the rest is history.
The Jackrabbit Running Club located in Gwinnett County built Kinney into the Division I athlete he is today. The same sentiment can be attributed to Buford High alumnus Erin Marsh and her track success at Duke University.
Marsh, who was a senior at the time, was the first person Kinney met from the club two years ago. He was wearing a Jackrabbit shirt at a track meet at Parkview High School when Marsh approached him.
“She was like ‘I run for that club,’ and I was like ‘Oh really?,’” Kinney explained. “I had no idea who she was at the time.
“My dad told me who she was. And then I direct messaged her on Twitter.”
Since their exchange on Twitter, Marsh has helped prepare Kinney for the life of a college athlete, and what college coaches specifically look for in multi-event athletes.
“She really just said, ‘Hey, don’t necessarily worry about getting a good overall score. Work on the key events that they look for. Like the hurdles, the long jump. Like the events that just show your athletic prowess,’” he said.
Kinney hopes to stay within the sports marketing industry once his athletic career is over.
“My top dream is to be CMO of like a Nike or an Adidas,” he said. “I want to lead a team to get a product out there.”