From $13.8M in NIL money to none: A 4-star QB's unprecedented recruitment (2024)

Editor’s note: Jaden Rashada was named Arizona State’s starting quarterback on Aug. 22, a program source toldThe Athletic. Read more here.

Editor’s Note: This story is included in The Athletic’s Best of 2023. View the full list.

Written by Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples

It was late June 2022, and the most-talked-about recruit at the prestigious, invitation-only Elite 11 Finals was not Malachi Nelson or Dante Moore, five-stars and the consensus top prospects in attendance. It was instead a four-star ranked below six others in his class.


Jaden Rashada arrived in Southern California for the quarterback showcase two days after committing to Miami during a televised announcement and two days after a report claimed Rashada secured a $9.5 million name, image and likeness (NIL) deal from a Miami booster. Rashada had recently shined with his play at a regional camp in Las Vegas, but it was the rumored megadeal that fueled the spotlight at the Elite 11 event.

With hundreds watching the passing drills from the stands at Redondo Union High School, Rashada struggled mightily; he repeatedly misfired on throws to receivers. Event organizers said Rashada appeared to be visibly stressed by the attention. A reporter covering the finals for The Athletic spotted him in tears.

“The kids openly talked about his money around him on the field, and Rashada is standing there,” said George Whitfield, a quarterback coach and former ESPN analyst who worked at the event. “They’re asking him, ‘How does it work? Do you get it all at once?’ And you can tell how uncomfortable he was.

“It was so awkward, and it only got worse. Balls were going in the dirt.”

Organizers sent playbooks and homework assignments to the campers ahead of the event. Elite 11 president Brian Stumpf said Rashada texted him apologizing he had not been able to dive into the material because “life’s been crazy.”

The “crazy” was just beginning.

Four months after his struggles at the Elite 11 finals, Rashada flipped his commitment from Miami to rival Florida and signed an NIL contract with the Gator Collective, a booster group that isn’t affiliated with Florida’s athletic department. The contract, which was obtained by The Athletic, would have paid him a staggering $13.85 million over four years, starting with a $500,000 payment on Dec. 5, in return for minimal NIL services such as posting on social media and autographing items.

That $13.85 million figure exceeded the highest known number for a college player and is barely less than Pittsburgh Steelers first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett’s rookie contract ($14.1 million over four years).


Then, in mid-January, Rashada did not enroll at Florida as expected. The Gator Collective had reneged on its deal in early December, two days after the initial payment was due, and on Jan. 17 the quarterback was granted a release from his letter of intent. Rashada, once seemingly poised to benefit greatly from a perceived bidding war between Miami and Florida boosters, was suddenly without a school and without NIL dollars.

Read more: Staples: Florida’s new collective creates cleaner NIL approach after Jaden Rashada mess

Rashada once had a top-30 rating in the 247Sports Composite, but by the end of the 2023 recruiting cycle he’d fallen to 82nd nationally. Multiple college coaches told The Athletic that while they think he has a good arm and talent, they didn’t view him in the same light that the online recruiting sites rated him and were baffled by the reports of the massive NIL deals he was offered.

For those who’ve known the quarterback since he received his first scholarship offers as a freshman at Liberty High in Brentwood, Calif., Rashada’s saga the past year has been difficult to watch. He is humble and respectful, they say, the opposite of an attention-seeker, but no recruit outside of Arch Manning has received more of it.

Last Wednesday, Rashada, 19, announced a commitment to Arizona State, where his father, Harlen, played in the mid-1990s. He recently revisited that school after a trip in 2021.

“He’s a really nice kid. Good player; has a lot of room to grow,” Whitfield said. “There’s just so much there with that realization, that I’m carrying an $11 million backpack on my back, and he’s just trying to measure up.”

From $13.8M in NIL money to none: A 4-star QB's unprecedented recruitment (1)

Rashada, who flipped his commitment from Miami to Florida in November, attended the Gators’ game at home against the South Carolina Gameco*cks and cheered with fans. (James Gilbert / Getty)

Rashada’s talent was evident in his early teens. “He had one of the strongest arms I’ve seen for a kid his age,” said Nathan Kenion, coach of KT Prep, a Northern California-based seven-on-seven team. Rashada played for KT Prep from eighth grade through his junior year of high school.

Shortly after his freshman season, Rashada received his first Power 5 offer from nearby Cal.

“Outstanding kid,” said former Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. “He was in the Bay Area; he would come by the stadium all the time. It was great to see him.”

Musgrave was impressed by the quarterback’s volunteer work. As a holiday project in late 2020, Rashada assembled gift baskets and backpacks containing a Bible and food that he distributed to community members in need, according to Rashada’s quarterback coach and mentor, Austyn Carta-Samuels.

When the NCAA lifted a 15-month recruiting dead period in June 2021, Carta-Samuels, a former Vanderbilt quarterback, accompanied Rashada and his father on unofficial visits to Penn State and Clemson.

“I felt he needed to see the other side of the country, because he has an SEC/Big Ten mentality, and I wanted him to feel that culture,” Carta-Samuels said. “It was a lot of big eyes, a lot of hugs with his dad, smiling at the little things, like, ‘Look how cool this name tag is with my name on it.’”

Rashada moved to Pittsburg (Calif.) High as a sophom*ore. As a junior, he threw for 2,220 yards, 27 touchdowns and five interceptions, leading his team to the state semifinals. By then he’d received offers from Florida, Miami and Ole Miss, each of which he announced on Twitter.


“I played Division I football. I went to Arizona State,” Harlen Rashada told The Athletic last May. “I know what it’s like to be recruited, to go through that process. Obviously, my son is a five-star recruit. That was a whole different process. It’s kind of interesting to watch it unfold.

“Definitely, probably the elephant in the room with it all has been the whole NIL aspect of it.”

The landmark NCAA policy allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness took effect July 1, 2021. Because schools aren’t permitted to negotiate NIL deals, third-party “collectives” emerged, pooling money from donors and fans to compensate athletes.

NCAA rules prohibit boosters from using NIL deals as a recruiting inducement, but the practice is pervasive, and to this point no school has been punished.

After The Athletic’s report last March that five-star California quarterback Nico Iamaleava landed an $8 million deal with a school’s collective (Iamaleava has since signed with Tennessee), Harlen Rashada engaged Mike Caspino, an Orange County attorney who worked with Iamaleava.

“The irony of that is my son was talking to Tennessee the same time Nico was,” Harlen said then. “They were a (collective) that was a little fast-forward thinking.”

Between April and late June 2022, Rashada and his father took official or unofficial visits to Miami (twice), Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU (twice), Oregon, Florida (twice) and Texas A&M. During a 10-day period from June 3-12, he made three visits and went to Las Vegas for a seven-on-seven tournament.

Coaches from multiple schools described a pattern: During the visit, Harlen would inquire about potential NIL income. Afterward, Caspino, who represents dozens of prospects and college athletes, would contact the collective seeking a multimillion-dollar deal. Two coaches, who like others in this story were granted anonymity so they could speak freely about Rashada’s situation, told The Athletic they pulled Rashada’s scholarship offer due to the feeling they were in a bidding war.


Jaden and Harlen Rashada did not return multiple messages seeking comment for this story.

Caspino said he does not “talk numbers” with coaches as a matter of policy. “One time I talked (to a coach) about one kid, but that had nothing to do with Rashada,” he said.

By late June, Rashada had narrowed his choice to Miami and Florida. On June 26, he committed to Miami, where booster John Ruiz says close to $13 million has been spent on NIL deals for more than 100 athletes to endorse LifeWallet, his health app.

“Miami just felt like home when I went there the second time,” Rashada said during his announcement. “Miami is kind of a California vibe. I guess that’s what really set it off a little bit.”

Within hours of his announcement, recruiting website On3 reported that Ruiz had agreed to a $9.5 million deal with Rashada, with Caspino telling the outlet that “Jaden left millions on the table” by passing on an $11 million offer from the Gator Collective.

The Athletic could not corroborate whether either offer ever existed.

“I signed a confidentiality agreement. I can’t say much,” Ruiz told The Athletic. “But what I can say is there was no agreement between Rashada and LifeWallet for $9.5 million or nothing even remotely close to that.”

Three people with knowledge of the negotiations said that LifeWallet eventually reached a deal to run through Rashada’s senior year of high school — with the contract consummated in California, where, unlike in Florida, NIL payments to high school players are legal. But the promised dollar figure was closer to $500,000.

Miami fans celebrated what seemed like a big recruiting win for first-year coach Mario Cristobal in beating out their in-state rival, but almost immediately, players, coaches and even Rashada’s family questioned whether Miami was where the quarterback wanted to play.


“I think Florida was in his heart, and other things drew him to Miami at that point that kind of added to the stress,” said Stumpf.

Rashada joined several Miami commits and recruits in Coral Gables the weekend of July 30-Aug. 2, and it was apparent then he had reservations.

“In our group chat everyone’s pretty vocal,” said Antonio Tripp, a three-star offensive lineman who signed with Miami in December. “We might talk about when we’re going to Miami or who is enrolling early or about our seasons and stuff like that. He was the only one who didn’t really talk in the group chat. Everybody kind of knew he wasn’t into it.”

Harlen Rashada told The Athletic his son had “buyer’s remorse” that “kept snowballing. And my wife and daughter never stopped telling Jaden he should’ve gone to Florida.”

Meanwhile, Florida’s coaching staff kept communication lines open with the family.

“I was praying about it for a whole month,” Jaden said at January’s Under Armor All-America Game.

A person with knowledge of Rashada’s LifeWallet contract said he was scheduled to film a commercial in Miami the week of the Hurricanes’ Nov. 5 game against Florida State. He did not show. That person said the player had already received about $125,000. A lawyer for the company sent Caspino a letter notifying the player he had breached his contract.

Miami at that point was off to a dismal start in Cristobal’s first season, losing 45-31 at home to Middle Tennessee State in September and falling 45-3 to Florida State on Nov. 5. That same day, Florida won 41-24 at Texas A&M to improve to 5-4.

“Just watching the games,” said Jaden at January’s Under Armor event, “I had a feeling.”

Hugh Hathco*ck, a Florida booster, pledged $12.6 million in April 2022 to Florida’s athletic department — the largest single pledge in its history. Around that time, he also announced the formation of the Gator Guard, an NIL collective. Florida already had one — Gator Collective — but Hathco*ck said the intent was for Gator Guard to work alongside Gator Collective and tap into “high-net worth Gators” for NIL donations.


The first hint that the Gators boosters had something big in the works came at 7:18 p.m. ET on Nov. 9 when Hathco*ck tweeted “Tomorrow will be a Great Day Gator Fans!!!”

Forty-one minutes later, South Florida-based sports attorney Darren Heitner, also a Florida alumnus whom the Gator Collective’s website states was “retained to provide legal counsel and ensure that all operations comply with NIL law,” responded.

Me right now.

— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) November 10, 2022

Heitner also works with athletes on NIL deals, so many Gators fans took that to mean a big commitment was coming. The hype grew the next day at 6:50 p.m. ET when Hathco*ck tweeted “All Good!!! Just a little longer!!!” Seventeen minutes later, Heitner tweeted.

— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) November 11, 2022

Just after midnight ET, the news dropped. Rashada tweeted that he was flipping from Miami to Florida.

God is great, please respect my decision! IM HOME 🏡🐊. #GOGATORS🐊 #COMMITTED @coach_bnapier @CoachRyanO @kearycolbert

— Jaden Rashada 5️⃣ (@jadenrashada) November 11, 2022

Rashada signed the NIL contract that day. It called for a $500,000 up-front payment. After that, his payments would increase from $250,000 a month as a freshman, to $291,666.66 a month as a sophom*ore, to $375,000 a month as a junior, rounded out with $195,833.33 monthly payments as a senior, so long as he fulfilled the following obligations:

  • Residence in Gainesville, Fla.
  • At least one branded Twitter post and one branded Instagram post per month.
  • Up to eight fan engagement events per year. These could include in-person appearances, social media engagements, video conferences or interviews. None would last longer than two hours.
  • Autograph up to 15 pieces of merchandise per year.

The contract also states that the collective can “in its sole and absolute discretion” terminate the agreement “without penalty or further obligation.”

Two days after Rashada’s announcement, Heitner posted photos of himself with the quarterback doing the Gator chomp at that weekend’s Florida-South Carolina game in The Swamp.

#UFuture #GoGators

— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) November 12, 2022

Rashada, in switching from Miami to Florida, also swapped NIL advisers. The new representatives were Jackson Zager and Tommy Thomsen, founders of an agency called JTM Sports. Zager is a sophom*ore at SMU; Thomsen is a commercial real estate agent. The agency lists Heitner’s firm as its “affiliate law firm” and advertises that Heitner “assists JTM and our clients in all legal matters and dispute resolution.”


Heitner said at the request of a member of the Gator Collective, he relayed the dollar amounts that appeared in Rashada’s contract to a member of the Gator Collective via text message on Nov. 10. Asked where those amounts came from, Heitner said he was told them by a third party. Asked to name the third party, he declined to do so.

“I was retained by (Gator Collective CEO) Eddie Rojas back in 2021,” Heitner said. “From time to time, I’ve been asked questions relating to the NCAA rules and Florida state law with regard to what can or shouldn’t be done. I was not asked in this instance to provide any legal advice, diligence or guidance in any respect with regard to this transaction.”

Four sources with knowledge of the contract negotiations confirmed that the Gator Collective — which typically writes deals for much smaller amounts — never got a guarantee in writing from a donor (or donors) that they would cover the amount in Rashada’s contract. Days after Rashada’s Florida flip, LifeWallet received reimbursem*nt for its $125,000, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations.

The Gator Collective’s first payment to Rashada, for $500,000, was due Dec. 5. It would have come before Rashada enrolled at Florida. The Athletic asked Gabe Feldman, a Tulane law school professor who specializes in sports law, to review specific clauses in Rashada’s contract with Gator Collective.

“Just the contact with the athlete prior to enrollment and using it as a recruiting inducement, that seems pretty cut and dry based on the timing,” said Feldman. “Under every version of the NCAA policy, that’s problematic.”

Rashada did not receive the payment, and two days after it was due, the Gator Collective terminated the agreement in a letter sent to Rashada. No reason was given for the termination, according to three people who read the letter. The contract includes the following: “Collective may, in its sole and absolute discretion, terminate this Agreement…” and then lists several reasons the collective could immediately terminate the contract:

  • If the contract is found to violate Florida law.
  • If the contract is found to violate school rules or rules the school must follow (such as NCAA rules).
  • If Rashada doesn’t reside in Gainesville.

Rojas declined comment.

From $13.8M in NIL money to none: A 4-star QB's unprecedented recruitment (2)

The one-time five-star prospect’s recruitment is unprecedented in college football, during a time of immense change in the sport. (Manny Navarro / The Athletic)

Two weeks after the termination came college football’s early signing day, Dec. 21. Rashada’s name did not appear on a list of signees Florida distributed to the media, and Florida coach Billy Napier’s news conference was delayed for more than an hour, but Rashada’s letter of intent did arrive.

Though Rashada knew there would be no $13 million-plus contract, his belongings were shipped from California to Gainesville before he departed for the Jan. 3 Under Armour game in Orlando, and he and his family planned to move to Florida a few days later. Rashada’s name was listed in Florida’s online student directory.

“The reasons that he was interested in Florida were deeper than money,” said Carta-Samuels. “Of course, that’s a lot of money, and it supports the people around him, so it plays a factor. But when you talk about him still signing … I could see him going through that and saying, ‘I still believe in what I’m doing, I’m still into this, it’s OK.’”


But shortly before the Jan. 13 deadline to enroll for the spring semester passed, the Rashadas returned to California. Parties affiliated with Florida had been engaged in discussions with Rashada’s representatives about a new NIL deal, but the two sides could not reach an agreement, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

“As reality set in on that, there became a trust factor,” Carta-Samuels said. “I think he (signed with Florida) along the lines of good faith, realized that good faith wasn’t quite as good as he thought, and ultimately made the decision to open (his recruitment) back up.”

At Arizona State, Rashada will play for first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham, who was Oregon’s offensive coordinator last season and had tried to recruit Rashada to Eugene.

Forks Up 4L! 🔱🆙! #Home @KennyDillingham

— Jaden Rashada 5️⃣ (@jadenrashada) February 1, 2023

Prior to last month, Rashada had not visited Tempe since June 2021, when Herm Edwards was Arizona State’s head coach, and he did not use one of his five official visits there. He will not formally become a Sun Devil until he can enroll this summer.

As for how much NIL money Rashada landed by going to Arizona State, a person with knowledge of that school’s collective said it was his understanding that an NIL arrangement for Rashada is “nonexistent.”

— Reporting from The Athletic’s Manny Navarro, G. Allan Taylor, Bruce Feldman, Doug Haller, Antonio Morales and Ari Wasserman

(Illustration: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; Photos: Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Under Armour)

As an expert in college football and the evolving landscape of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals, I can confidently analyze the article and provide insights into the various concepts and events discussed.

  1. Jaden Rashada's Recruitment and NIL Deals:

    • Jaden Rashada was a highly talked-about recruit during the Elite 11 Finals in June 2022, despite being ranked below some of his peers.
    • He committed to Miami and was rumored to have a substantial $9.5 million NIL deal from a Miami booster.
    • The attention and pressure seemed to affect Rashada negatively during the Elite 11 event, leading to on-field struggles.
  2. NIL Landscape:

    • The article highlights the impact of the NIL policy change that allowed college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness, starting from July 1, 2021.
    • Third-party collectives, such as the Gator Collective and Gator Guard, emerged to pool money from donors and fans to compensate athletes, sidestepping the schools' inability to negotiate NIL deals.
  3. Rashada's Commitment and Flip to Florida:

    • Despite committing to Miami, Rashada later flipped his commitment to Florida and signed an NIL contract with the Gator Collective, promising a staggering $13.85 million over four years.
    • The deal included upfront payments and monthly payments based on certain obligations, such as social media posts, fan engagement events, and autographs.
  4. Contract Termination and Florida's Response:

    • The Gator Collective terminated Rashada's NIL contract two days after the initial payment was due, leaving Rashada without the expected financial support.
    • The termination was abrupt, with reasons not explicitly provided in the article, and it led to Rashada's release from his letter of intent with Florida.
  5. Impact on Rashada's Recruitment and Ranking:

    • Rashada's recruitment journey took a toll on his ranking, dropping from a top-30 prospect to 82nd nationally by the end of the 2023 recruiting cycle.
    • College coaches expressed confusion and skepticism about the massive NIL deals reportedly offered to Rashada, questioning the alignment with his on-field performance.
  6. Rashada's Decision to Commit to Arizona State:

    • Rashada eventually committed to Arizona State, where his father had played in the mid-1990s.
    • Despite the tumultuous journey, Rashada's talent and potential are acknowledged, with observers noting his humility and the challenges he faced in the complex NIL environment.

This analysis provides a comprehensive overview of the key concepts and events discussed in the article, showcasing the intricate interplay between recruiting, NIL deals, and the challenges faced by student-athletes in the evolving landscape of college football.

From $13.8M in NIL money to none: A 4-star QB's unprecedented recruitment (2024)
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