I am not *that* into high school recruiting. I think the whole process is sort of flawed. Not that it's anyones fault. I mean, 1.04 million kids played high school football in the 2017/2018 season. I can't expect any company, no matter the size, to be able to cover that in its entirety. Plus, even if you do correctly identify kids that are more talented than others, there is likely so much development left for them as human beings in terms of maturation, as well as their body composition, that rankings and grades are sometimes just a crap shoot.
But, as a University of Florida grad and fan of the Florida Gators football team, I am always at least a little bit interested in which top guys my team is looking at. So in that sense, I do pay some attention and try to understand the process.
I remember about two years ago my friend told me to check out a cornerback that the Gators were interested in. His name was Brendan Radley-Hiles. Radley-Hiles was a 4-star corner playing at IMG Academy. He was ranked as the No. 5 cornerback in the 2018 class and the No. 38 prospect overall by 24/7. In doing some research on him, I check out his tape, looked at his athletic scores from The Opening and things like that, and then I went to his social media. For me, social media can be a very interesting element towards getting to know the kind of player the Gators or whoever might be getting -- this can be used when I'm scouting potential NFL players in draft season, too.
When I found Radley-Hiles' accounts, I didn't just see a football player. I saw a brand.
As still a junior in high school when I first looked into Radley-Hiles, he had over 40,000 Instagram followers. He also had over 10,000 followers on Twitter. Normally some of the biggest recruits in the country, as Top 10 guys, can have around 10,000 followers on IG or Twitter because teams of schools are following them, trying to compliment them and sway them towards choosing their school to play for. But Radley-Hiles was different. He had way more followers than even some of the top players and biggest names in the class -- and he was just a junior in high school.
I also couldn't help but notice how professionally calculated his posts were. All of his posts were high quality pictures, they were of him (which is important for Instagram because people follow you to see you), the captions were very modern, motivating and mysterious. At age 17, he knew what he was doing. He even had a name by which all his social media was identified. His handles weren't of his name, they were of his nickname; his brand.
Bookie didn't end up choosing to go to the University of Florida. He ended up enrolling at Oklahoma, where he saw some playing time as a true freshman this season. Since I last checked, Bookie's social presence has grown from 40,000 followers on IG to now over 162,000. On Twitter, it's grown from 10,000 to 71,000 in two years. He's not the first to do something like this, either. Back when cornerback Teez Tabor was at Florida, that nickname in and of itself became a brand that he built before going to the NFL. It became his identity beyond his football talents.
So why does any of that matter? Well, because it's going to be important to identify some of these players as they are coming through the college ranks and into the NFL. When Rashan Gary announced that he was going to start his own sports agency, it was likely a decision that will snowball things for years to come.
The big pitch of sports agencies to some of these potential first round players in the NFL Draft is usually becoming a part of a brand. By signing with this agency, your name as a player will always have a source of power next to it. I mean, when you hear that a guy is represented by Rosenhaus Sports or Roc Nation Sports, that carries clout. It immediately makes you, as a player or prospect, more valuable and therefore worth more to the organization you're about to sign with. That can mean more dollars in your pocket.
Why? Because of the brand.
But what if you cut out the middle man? What if YOU were the brand? That's what Rashan Gary is doing.
Gary isn't just looking to make money off his football career. He's looking to make money off his name -- the ultimate goal. He's trying to get paid for being Rashan Gary, just like he's planning to get paid for football.
Gary is building his own brand. He already has a logo, which he's been using at his Twitter avi all season to get people used to it, and there will likely be plenty of trademarks to follow in relation to his new agency.
Gary doesn't just want to carry power in his lower body when going after sacks. He wants to carry power when he walks in a room with no pads on at all. When you can market yourself as a brand more than just a football player, you then have even more value. You can walk into a negotiating room and say to a general manager or NFL owner that not only are you getting me as a football player, you're getting one of the most followed players in the world when it comes to a personal audience. You're getting the "Rashan Gary brand" just as much as you are getting the football player. With an audience will always come allurement from big businesses, and you better believe that NFL teams are big business.
It's been reported that NFL agent Ian Clarke will be responsible for helping the company get off the ground, as well as serve as Gary’s personal agent. So in terms of the people that will read this and think "What does a kid who didn't even finish college know about business?" Gary really doesn't have to. It's all about his name -- it just has to be worth something, and it is.
Life in the NFL can be here today and gone tomorrow, but your name and the reputation and power that comes with it can outlast even you. By building a brand beyond your skill in a sport, you become more valuable than even the highest contract in the NFL, in the long run. That's what guys like Bookie and guys like Gary are trying to do.
They're building brands that will make them successful with or without the football.