Before committing to Clemson football in June, four-star defensive end AJ Hoefler interacted with dozens of power-five schools on the recruiting trail.
And it didn’t take long to realize that the Tigers were a bit of an anomaly when it came to names, images and likenesses, he said.
“They aren’t paying for children,” Hoefler said.
When Clemson recruited Hoefler, the message was clear. Football was the “main thing”, the sport that had already gotten him this far, and they wanted to keep it. No distractions.
In contrast to other pitches he said he heard, Clemson’s pitch was a simple and engaging approach.
“You just do your thing in the field and the money comes in.” So it’s not like they pay you. One of the schools.”
That was the overarching message during 2023 recruiting as Clemson prepares to sign the nation’s 12th recruiting class on Wednesday. , if at all, would be enforced under NCAA guidelines — the Tigers avoid such inducements.
Tyler Brown, a three-star wide receiver from nearby Greenville, said: “Indeed, that’s what brought me here.”
Quarterback Christopher Vizzina, one of 19 four- or five-star prospects among Clemson’s 25 prospective signers, agreed. NIL wasn’t a taboo topic during his hiring — the Tigers had made a lot of moves in that field since last summer — but it wasn’t even the season opener.
“The bottom line is they’re doing it the right way,” Vizzina said.
Specifically, college football has been drizzled with pay-for-play beef incessantly over the past year. Smaller program coaches complain of tampering, and some see the sports offseason as glorious free agency. Alabama’s Nick Saban said Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M program, one of his SEC West rivals, “buyed every player on the team.”
Just this week, UNC coach Mack Brown said quarterback and current ACC Player of the Year Drake May “turned down a lot of money” to stay with the Tar Heels rather than move elsewhere. said. He did not disclose which school offered his quarterback a transfer.
“I can’t tell you, don’t ask Drake,” Brown said. “You know who they are. Look at all the guys getting all the top recruits.”
‘Last thing’, says Clemson
Hoffler, who is from Atlanta, said the concept of pay-for-play via NIL (often set up through alumni-run organizations) came up several times during adoption. The same goes for many of his high school football friends across Georgia, which, as usual, is loaded with elite talent in its 2023 class.
“I know a lot of schools that have,” Hoefler said. “But as you can see throughout the season, the schools kids went to just for the NIL didn’t always work. (Often) they were out on the transfer portal. Clemson.” I just want to do things the right way.”
Speaking at the ACC’s Preseason Football Media Day this summer, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of the NIL: we lead That’s the last thing we talk about. “
The longtime coach acknowledged that approach could hurt Clemson, which has a small number of elite recruits each year, but insisted he “doesn’t want players coming for the NIL.” And what if a player asked Clemson what the school could do for him financially during his recruitment?
“Yeah, we can’t get them,” said Swinney.
Brown, an in-state receiver who was committed to Minnesota before turning to Clemson in November, said it was how the Tigers gave him a NIL opportunity. It was not a major course. It was rather a sweetener.
“It had nothing to do with my decision,” Brown said. “I go to Clemson for the program and the real coaches, the consistency.”
At the same time, Clemson has a “great NIL program” that he and other athletes can use, he said. The university launched Reign in April, a broader project branded by athletic director Graham Neff as the “next generation” of the Tigers’ name, image and likeness program.
As part of that initiative, the school is building the Clemson Athletics Branding Institute. This is a separate space for his NIL activities with a photo studio, video studio, multipurpose office space and other assets. According to the school, it is the first of its kind in the country.
In terms of staffing, Clemson’s athletics division employs a NIL Director, a Senior NIL Coordinator dedicated to football, and seven other employees who are at least partially associated with NIL-specific efforts.
Clemson’s has been able to support the NIL collective more directly over the past two months, thanks to the NCAA’s policy clarifications. In his last two home football games of the school season, Nef and Swinney appeared on the video board, naming the two most famous Clemson collectives, Tiger Impact and Deer Old, his Clemsons, We asked fans to donate.
“The path we must take has never been clearer,” Neff said in a November 21 video for fans, noting that the Clemson Collective “will provide meaningful NIL opportunities for student-athletes.” We need your support to do this, we are doing things the right way, the Clemson way, with non-negotiable integrity, and we are fully committed to the mission of these groups. We support this.”
“Earning Rights” to the NIL
Vizina, the second-highest-ranked signatory in Clemson’s 2023 recruiting class in the nation at 39th behind five-star DT Peter Woods, is well aware of the opportunities ahead of him in college. I am aware of
But he’s worried about something else first. To hit the field and follow in his 21st century Clemson quarterback footsteps with other famous names such as Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik (whom he plans to back up in 2023) is.
“I have to go get the right to do the NIL contract,” said Vizina, an Alabama native. “The reality is, if you’re not going to play, nobody wants to sign you. People want a national champion. If you want real money, there’s real money out there.”
During the hiring process, Vizzina said, she prioritized overall brand awareness over potential zeros. If he’s the school’s starting quarterback, can he challenge for a championship? Heisman Trophy? Will a financially lucrative NFL career soon surpass all NIL earnings?
“There are other schools that try to lure you and others, but it’s the Clemson brand,” Vizina said. There’s a lot more (opportunities) than someone backing up at a school that doesn’t have a chance.
So does Hoefler, who said he would major in either business or sports communications, with an emphasis on broadcasting at Clemson. Those are his two areas that are good for his NIL, and there are plenty of opportunities he can pursue, but he’s more focused on earning his spot on the team as a summer entrant.
In other words, he keeps the main thing.
“Hopefully,” said Hoffler.