Right after the NCAA started allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, Rayquan Smith, a Spring 21 initiate of the Delta Zeta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, decided that he was going to get in on the money.
At the time, he was an athlete for Norfolk State University where he played football and ran track. He saw that top athletes at schools like the University of Alabama were making six-figure NIL deals made a plan. He was at an HBCU and probably wasn’t going to land a $500,000 deal but he could make a lot of small deals that would add up.
He sent out over 100 emails to companies and started landing deals just like his plan. He has now brought in over 85 deals and counting and dubbed himself the “King of NIL”. Now a Norfolk State University graduate who is currently pursuing a masters in Media Management at Virginia State University where he plays on the football team and does track & field, Smith is on a journey to take things to the next level.
We at Watch The Yard did an interview with the Phi Beta Sigma brother and asked him about his journey, his strategy and the future of NIL for HBCU athletes.
Read our full interview with him below:
Rayquan, you’ve gained quite a reputation as the ‘King of NIL’ with over 85 NIL deals. Can you share how you got started in the NIL world and what motivated you to pursue these opportunities?
When NIL first started on July 1, 2021, I didn’t know too much about it at the time I went to Norfolk State University, where they didn’t really tell us anything about NIL. Many athletes were posting about it on Instagram, so I took it upon myself and did my own research. In those two hours, I wrote a format saying who I was, what sport I played, and how I could help their company. I sent that email out to 100 companies and received three responses, two were a no, and one was a yes by Smart Cups. Smart Cups was my first NIL deal. As I saw other Power 5 athletes get one NIL deal for almost 100k, I asked myself, what can I do to reach the same amount of money? The idea was to get many NIL deals to reach that goal.
NIL deals can encompass a wide range of partnerships and endorsements. Can you tell us about some of the most exciting or unique collaborations you’ve been a part of so far?
All my NIL deals are exciting, and I’m very grateful for these amazing collaborations. If I had to pick one specifically, it would be Richmond Planet License Plate, Virginia’s first black history specialty license plate. Reggie has been great through this whole partnership, we use his VSTATE License plate as a Touchdown/ Turnover Chain for football games.
Managing nearly 100 NIL deals while being a student-athlete must be challenging. How do you balance your academic commitments, football, and these sponsorship agreements?
My time management is very good, I learned my time management skills from having a poor freshman fall semester. Since then, I have made sure my priorities are in line, and that I make time for things that are needed and not just my wants. I graduated from Norfolk State University with a 3.0 (Cum Laude) while balancing sports, Greek life, Entrepreneurship, and personal life. You make time for what you want to accomplish, remember that.
Norfolk State has a strong tradition of producing talented athletes. How has the support and environment at an HBCU like Norfolk State influenced your journey as a student-athlete and entrepreneur?
The support and environment at Norfolk State, as an HBCU, have played a crucial role in shaping my journey as a student-athlete and entrepreneur.
The university’s commitment to fostering a sense of community and providing resources specifically tailored to the needs of Black students has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth. Additionally, the emphasis on cultural pride and the celebration of diverse perspectives have instilled in me a strong sense of identity and resilience, this has greatly influenced my approach to both academics and business.
NIL deals have the potential to open doors for athletes beyond their sports careers. Can you discuss how these opportunities have impacted your future goals and aspirations, both on and off the field?
NIL deals have not only provided financial support for athletes, but they have also allowed us to build our personal brands and gain valuable business experience. These opportunities have opened doors for me to explore entrepreneurship and marketing, which has expanded my future goals beyond just my athletic career. Off the field, I now have a greater understanding of the power of networking and leveraging my platform for social impact.
Rayquan, in addition to your achievements on the football field and your remarkable success in NIL deals, you’re also a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. How has being part of this fraternity influenced your college experience, and do you see any connections between your fraternity values and your approach to entrepreneurship and athletics?
Being a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity – Delta Zeta Chapter has been a blessing to me and my journey as an entrepreneur and athlete. Being at a fraternity level, my college experience, just meeting new people, networking with different brothers, and just being more helpful in the community. Community service will always be important because that is what we stand for. I learned how to be accountable for my own actions and be a leader to teach the younger generation. I’m very grateful for my four LBs being there for me through the tough adversity I was dealing with, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
What is your advice for other HBCU student athletes who are looking to land NIL Deals?
Don’t be scared to be a go-getter. I got rejected so many times by companies, but that didn’t stop me, it made me work harder. I realize a rejection does not mean no, it only tells you you have to work a little harder to be successful. I went with that mentality, and now I’m up to 87 NIL deals and counting. If it was easy, everybody could do it, you have to want it. Nobody can want it for you. Another thing – be yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, because if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything you want. The sky is the limit.
Why do you see Watch The Yard as an amplifier of students who land NIL deals?
HBCU athletes need more exposure and support for what they do for the HBCU Community. There are a lot of people with a story to tell, we just need a platform to express it. I believe Watch The Yard can make a big difference in the HBCU Community.
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