Heading into last season, perhaps the most notable moment of Will Levis’ career as a college football player was eating an unpeeled banana.
A year later, the Kentucky quarterback with the active and entertaining TikTok account has become an intriguing NFL prospect. This combination of personality and athletic potential has never been more valuable in college athletics.
The first year of the era of the name, image and likeness of collegiate sports allowed thousands of athletes to enjoy their fame and Levis is among the most important. But as the saying goes: with great power comes great responsibility.
“I think NIL is really helping young people to grow into men and grow into women earlier and make those big adult decisions and figure out how the world works,” Levis told AP recently at the inaugural NIL summit that was held in Atlanta.
For Levis, that meant balancing short-term gains with long-term goals and ensuring the brand he’s building as a player can successfully become the face of an NFL franchise.
“If you’re in college and you make a million trades, who are you? said Beth Levis, Will’s mother. “Maybe you don’t care. But with Will, I think he has a strong identity. So we have to be careful how we navigate the waters.
The NCAA lifted its ban on compensating athletes for the use of their name, image or likeness a year ago this Friday, in one of the biggest changes in college athletics history. It did so without detailed guidelines in place and with a patchwork of state laws leaving the market loosely regulated and lacking in uniformity.
The results have been mostly positive for the athletes, but angsty college coaches and administrators worry about how NIL has already infiltrated and corrupted recruiting.
Levis, a Connecticut native, said he signed about 13 sponsorship deals over the past year, working with an agency called Athlete Advantage based in Lexington, Ky., home of the Wildcats. The deals include a Lexington car dealership, a national clothing brand, and a racehorse named Will of War from one of Kentucky’s thoroughbred farms.
He said he also turned down many opportunities.
“With the current setup right now, we have to protect ourselves,” he said. “But we have to understand how to do certain transactions, how many transactions we do, what type of transactions, what type of companies we work with, how it reflects our brand and our image and the consequences that can come from that. .”
Even before college athletes could get paid for things like autographs, appearances, and endorsements, Levis was interested in the benefits of brand management.
Jim Cavale, the founder of INFLCR, a company that works with schools on NIL programming and compliance, said he first met Levis in 2018 when the quarterback was a freshman at Penn State.
“(Will) came up to me afterwards. He shook my hand, asked me about what I had talked about regarding brand building, social media, how often he should post, what he should post,” Cavale said.
Levis spent three seasons as a little-used backup at Penn State before moving after the 2020 season to Kentucky, where he became the starter. Before taking a picture for the Wildcats, he rose to internet fame after the TikTok video of him eating an overripe banana with the skin still on it went viral.
After leading the Wildcats to a 10-win season, buzz has resumed about Levis’ pro potential. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Levis has a shot at being a 2023 first-round pick.
Handsome, charismatic, social media savvy and QB1: Levis was ready to capitalize on NIL’s freedom and had plenty of people interested in representing him. Cavale warned Lévis not to rush anything and avoid long-term commitments.
“Here’s the thing: the agents really want to sign you for NIL so they can build a relationship with you by helping you out a little bit with your NIL. But their hope is that you’ll sign for them to do your NFL contract” , said Cavale in Lévis.
Beth Levis declined to reveal how much her son earned in NIL trades. Whatever he won in NIL’s first year, there’s a good chance he could top it in 2022.
Beth Levis said Will also works with Williams Morris Endeavour, a talent agency with an athletic roster that includes Tom Brady and Kevin Durant. She said he is not required to sign with the agency when he enters the project.
Will Levis said he would like to refine the content he creates and his social media strategy.
“But it’s also very difficult as a quarterback,” he said. “Because you can’t have your fan base and your teammates and your coaches see you posting on social media and saying, ‘Does this mean more to him? that the main thing, who is football? »
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