NIL discussion for high school football coaches now a reality

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North Carolina State commitment Zach Myers conducts drills during the Alpha Wolf showcase at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, July 29, 2022.

ehyman@newsobserver.com

There was a time when Jason Wilkes had a checklist of what to talk about with his top-tier prep football players: SAT scores, school requirements, official visits.

Now Wilkes, the head coach of the new Willow Springs High School, must learn about a new topic affecting rookies: the ability of varsity athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights.

In the year since the NCAA was forced to allow athletes to sign autographs, endorse products and companies, and otherwise profit from their personalities, it has dramatically changed the landscape of the recruitment, especially in football, with seven-figure deals and bidding wars for the best recruits. Some schools now have booster collectives that pool their money and offer it to recruits in NIL deals.

As college coaches and athletes across sports tried to adapt during that turbulent first year, confusion seeped down to the high school level, another factor to consider for players linked to the university and the coaches who try to advise them. For the best recruits, there can be a huge amount of money at stake.

“In the past, you looked at the school, the quality of education, the location of the school, the facilities and whatever else is important,” Wilkes told the News & Observer. “Now that’s a whole other variable added in there. I think that’s just another area that we high school coaches need to be aware of and adapt to so that we can help these young men. navigate these waters.

Part of Wilkes’ education process is talking to prep coaches in other states. While North Carolina does not yet allow NIL opportunities for high school athletes, 13 other states do.

Two years ago, while at Cary High School, Wilkes coached four-star defensive lineman Davin Vann, now at NC State. Discussing NIL opportunities wasn’t something Wilkes and Vann had to worry about. In 2024, Wilkes will have its first senior class in Willow Springs. If another stallion like Vann emerges, NIL opportunities will be a big part of the discussion, a new recruiting reality.

The key, Wilkes said, is to be proactive about it.

“We also need to be determined about how we train and educate our kids now to make sure they don’t rush at the last minute,” Wilkes said. “If we postpone it, they are going to be put in a bad situation.”

elite players

Coaches don’t have NIL discussions with the majority of their players – even most stacked high school teams don’t send multiple players to Power 5 schools. Many of the best players end up at the FCS, Division II, or Division level III, if they play football in college.

NC State commitment Zach Myers (Christ School) is one of those elite players, and NIL is not something he had to think about in his first two years of high school.

Myers, who verbally committed to the Pack on June 24, is a four-star prospect according to 247Sports. He chose NC State over Ole Miss and Tennessee. When profiting from NIL became permitted last July, Myers had just left a camp in Oxford. A week later, he started hearing some of the numbers SEC players could potentially bring in thanks to NIL.

“It was pretty cool, but at the end of the day, I’m here to play football,” Myers said. “I can pass up thousands now to earn millions later.”

One of Myers’ mentors is former Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler, who told Myers the story of a UT freshman who was already considering lucrative NIL offers before he even took a photo. Myers pondered how this freshman could potentially get deals on seniors who have been on campus for four or five years.

“Stuff like that didn’t rub me the wrong way, but it was something to think about,” Myers said. “At NC State they always have those opportunities (NIL). I want to win it.

Rolesville defensive back Tamarcus Cooley, also a member of the 2023 NC State commit class, chose the Wolfpack over offers from some SEC programs. As for the potential revenue for his image, he thought it was wise to stay close to home.

“I’m already known here,” Cooley said. “In North Carolina.”

Part of the conversation

Cardinal Gibbons head coach Steven Wright, however, knows there are plenty of opportunities for top players.

“You have these players, like a Noah Rogers,” Wright said. “I guess that’s part of the conversation he’s being recruited for, his ZERO earning potential, things like that.”

Rogers, the wide player from Rolesville and No. 1 in the state, committed to Ohio State in June.

The Buckeyes have been one of the most notable programs since NIL launched last summer, landing more than 1,000 offers for athletes. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud signed an endorsement deal with a car dealership that landed him a $200,000 Mercedes G Wagon.

Although Wright thinks this presents something unique for elite prep players, he would like to see “safeguards” put in place.

Riley and Wilkes both used the same phrase, “wild, wild west” when talking about the advancing unknowns.

“You and I both know that 16, 17 year olds don’t always make the best decisions,” Wright said. “The children will adapt. I think those who have sage advice in their corner will do just fine and those who don’t don’t.

Sportswriter Jonas Pope IV covered college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central, NC State and the ACC for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.

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