The human behind the UMBC Twitter account takes a victory lap too

"University of Maryland Baltimore County, who are you?"

Sure, the men’s basketball team from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, pulled off one of the greatest — the greatest? — victories in college sports history late Friday, toppling Virginia, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

But how about that UMBC athletic department Twitter feed?

As word spread that the Retrievers were doing the unthinkable in a first-round game in Charlotte, North Carolina, sports fans flocked to their favorite digital bar, Twitter, and found a seat next to a new breed of color commentator: an institutional social media account with sass, verve and that special ability to burn, burn, burn.


The human behind the triumphal stream was Zach Seidel, 27, director of multimedia communications and digital for the athletic department. For a couple of hours Friday night, he was the voice of the ultimate underdogs, the about-to-be-vindicated sports fan who got to revel in something historic — with an audience of millions high-fiving his every remark.

“People I haven’t talked to in years were texting me, ‘Hey, I still have your number from school,’” Seidel said in a phone interview late Friday. “’I know we only hung out a few times, but oh my God, you’re killing it on Twitter.’”

There were even messages from former UMBC players whom Seidel had been invisible to when they were students. The account went from having about 5,400 followers to more than 41,000 by the time the sports world’s convulsions ended. Seidel’s posts were retweeted more than 48,000 times — many times with a check-this-out tone.

Seidel said he didn’t have a content plan going into the game. During most men’s basketball games, he is out in the broadcast truck doing replays or calling the game. His boss, Steve Levy, usually live tweets the men’s basketball games.

Seidel knew that one of the highest trafficked tweets he’d sent out from the account was when the men’s basketball team beat Vermont and he tweeted a screenshot of ESPN predicting UMBC had an 8 percent change of winning, captioned, “sup?”


He brought that mentality to the game Friday (he even had another “sup” tweet directed at ESPN’s matchup predictor).

Seidel arrived in North Carolina early Thursday morning and spent time with friends. He spent most of Friday in his hotel room and showed up to the pregame reception with five hours until the game, dressed in a collared shirt and pants. Everyone else was still in sweatpants.

Ten minutes before the game, he sat in his courtside seat behind the scorers’ table, and texted his parents a photo of his view.

“That was the moment I was like, we could have some fun tonight,” he said.

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A tweet from Seth Davis of CBS Sports initially provoked him.

“I don’t want to say that set me off, but I was like, ‘Hey, man, the game hasn’t started yet,’” Seidel said. “Give us a chance. And when I did that and saw a bunch of people retweet it, I was like, all right, I guess we can have some fun here.”

Later, there was ownership of Davis.

Friday’s game was just the second tournament appearance for UMBC, which has a student body of about 14,000.

Four full-time staff members and a handful of student interns work on the athletic department’s social media presence. Seidel doesn’t specialize in men’s basketball; he helps out on all sports. There are times that he can’t make it to games so he tweets from wherever he is. On Friday night, Seidel was the only person working on social media for the men’s basketball game. He was asked to do it the day before.


He tried not to cross the line with his glee. At some points, he was using Twitter as an outlet to calm his inner fan’s nerves. He was raised locally in Pikesville and graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in media communication studies from UMBC and a master’s degree in human-centered computing in 2015. His younger sister, Kara, is a senior at the school, and his parents both attended.

His father, Jeff, is a sports journalist, and his mother, Nadine, is a retired special education teacher.

Before he was a student, Seidel worked as an intern in the sports communications department at UMBC in his senior year of high school. While he was still getting his degree, he began working as the coordinator of video production. He has overseen multimedia communications since 2014.

Seidel said he knew that UMBC was going to win when the Retrievers were up by 17 with just over 3 minutes remaining. He sent the final tweet of the game — declaring victory — from his phone. He said he expected to run the account Sunday, for the second-round game against Kansas State.

“In the locker room, that’s where it kind of hit me that maybe we did something good here today off the court,” Seidel said. “Now I just have to find out if I have to fly out Sunday to tweet the men’s lacrosse game.”


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