How West Virginia’s Digital Team Created a Blueprint for a Heisman Campaign

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*Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

Anyone can tell you that the internet is an extremely fast-paced place. NCAA fans will tell you that the West Virginia University Mountaineers play a fast-paced brand of football. It only makes sense then, that WVU’s digital team is turning heads on social media and beyond under the direction of Grant Dovey, the athletic department’s director of digital media.

Dovey, a Philadelphia native and WVU alumnus, started with the athletic department as an intern back in 2008. Two degrees later, he eventually worked his way to a full-time digital media manager role after the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 and was promoted to his current role prior to the beginning of this football season. 

It’s been a productive first few months on the job for Dovey, as he and the team got an early start on the Heisman campaign for quarterback Will Grier

“We created a committee that met throughout the summer and it all culminated on July 7, the seventh day of the seventh month, when we unveiled it at 7:00 a.m., that being a homage to Grier’s jersey number, we launched grier7heisman.com along with #WillToWin. We send out weekly email blasts related to Will’s achievements, post highlights every week, and other content related to Will’s unique story. Coming from a family of social media superstars, that campaign has really been the main thing that we’ve added to our plate this year.”

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As Dovey mentioned, WVU digital went beyond what Grier is able to do as a passer, and highlighted many aspects of who Grier is as a human — with exceptional aesthetic quality. This is displayed in WVU’s documentary series, which explores different aspects of Grier’s personality: “The Will to Finish,” “The Will to Lead,” “The Will to Succeed,” “The Will to Love,” “The Will to Give,” “The Will to Compete,” and “The Will to Prepare.”

In doing so, WVU digital has created a blueprint of sorts for creating an extremely marketable Heisman candidate.

“We really wanted to get a different view of not just him on the field throwing touchdowns, but also his interaction with fans, his teammates, and his family,” Dovey said. “At the start of the season, he was one of the front-runners for the Heisman, and that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted people talking about him, and every time you watched any of the ESPN or FOX Sports TV shows, Will’s name would come up on a Heisman watch list. So I think we accomplished what we set out to do in getting Will’s name in people’s minds pretty quickly.”

Even at Week 10 of the season, Grier is still one of the most talked-about players in this year’s Heisman race. On ESPN’s Heisman House site, where fans can vote on which of 20 players from around the country should win the award, Grier has a staggering 53 percent of the vote. That’s 27 percent more than the next closest candidate, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa with 26 percent of the vote.

In addition to telling the story of Grier and the rest of the football team, WVU incorporates another very recognizable figure into their social presence: the Mountaineer mascot.

“He has a recognizable face,” Dovey said of the Mountaineer. “It’s kind of funny. Not many people have an actual person as their mascot. I think it makes us really unique. The person in the suit changes every year, but when you see that Mountaineer, you know what school he’s representing.”

From a graphic design standpoint, Dovey articulated how the “Mountaineer Mentality” and Mountaineer fans inspired the aesthetic of WVU football’s social presence.

“When you think of West Virginia, you think of a blue-collar mentality. Around here, we like to call it the ‘Mountaineer Mentality.’ Whenever you’re knocked down, you always get back up. It’s gritty. As a result, our graphic designer, Kristin Coldsnow, did a tremendous job creating a grunge look this year. We have two great colors in gold and blue. I think schools with two colors really stand out. We have made it a priority to use those colors to our advantage.”

However, WVU did not achieve the 10th-most social interactions amongst Power Five football teams on good content alone. The school’s social strategy during the week has helped a great deal in achieving that as well. One of the biggest takeaways from that aspect of the team’s approach has been not dwelling on one game for too long.

“I think there is a casual 48-hour window after the final whistle to talk about the previous game,” Dovey said. “We post some of the best pictures from that game, video highlights, the fans singing ‘Country Roads’… We try to pick the best of the best and get out as much content as we can in those 48 hours, and then after that 48 hours is up, we’re right back on game week and preparing for the next opponent.”

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On game days, Dovey and company have also begun using Team Infographics to keep fans updated with high-quality motion graphics that add to their story.

“The potential is endless for what we can accomplish with these guys. If you’re going for a certain brand, a certain look, it really takes out the ability to accidentally mess something up. They make it super-easy and super-fast, and if you don’t have it posted in a timely manner, someone else will. That’s our goal from a social standpoint: To have it up before anyone else does. This enables us to expedite that process, as we are no longer hiding layers and editing text in Photoshop. That’s an easy way for us to make a mistake, but with Team Infographics, we do not have to do that anymore.”

You’ll also see @WVUFootball embrace live streaming during the week, as well as before and after games.

“We do a coach’s show from noon to one every Tuesday that is streamed out live on Facebook, Twitter, WVUsports.com, Roku and Apple TV. We also do a lot with our radio personalities. About two hours before the game, Tony Caridi (play-by-play) and Dwight Wallace (analyst) will go on Facebook Live and preview the matchup, as well as take questions from fans.”

The “Mountaineer Mentality” has allowed the WVU digital team to accomplish some great things in the recent past.

“Work hard and don’t necessarily have a one-track mind. Be open to learning graphic design, be open to learning how to be a social media or video expert, become a video expert. You really need to be a utility player and have an answer for everything. If you’re able to get answers, you’ll be OK.”

*Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

To see more of what @WVUFootball has been producing, follow the program on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.