HBCU student-athletes cash in on NIL deals
TSU QB Andrew Body (right) and The Fry Guys co-owner Jamal Stenton. Photo courtesy of The Fry Guys.

French fries and college students – they just seem to go together. So much so that when Jamal Stenson, co-owner of Houston’s The Fry Guys, started thinking about ways to market his relatively new food truck business and Texas Southern starting quarterback Andrew Body’s name was brought up as a potential spokesman, it just made natural sense.

In the past, such an arrangement would have been against the rules, but a year into NCAA shifting to allowing student-athletes to benefit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL) the idea of Body being a spokesman for The Fry Guys was real. So this summer, the Tigers’ sophomore quarterback and the food truck company signed a promotional and appearance deal that allows Body to make money.

TSU QB Andrew Body posing with The Fry Guys product. Photo courtesy of The Fry Guys.

“It’s just a good look,” said Stenson, who co-owns the business with his wife, Synetta. “The college kids can benefit and I can also kind of represent HBCUs, HBCU sports and things of that nature. It will kind of ingratiate us to the community too by just having a guy like Andrew, especially the quarterback of TSU and a kid of Andrew’s caliber.”

Since the NCAA changed its laws in July 2021 to allow student-athletes to benefit monetarily and otherwise off of their name, image and likeness, thousands of college athletes across the country are taking advantage of the opportunity. Some student-athletes at big-time Power 5 programs are said to be making in the millions of dollars, while HBCU student-athletes are getting involved but usually on a less lucrative level right now.

But the bigger point is they are finally able to make some money off of what belongs to them.

“It’s really an advantage that we have to take advantage of because they are giving us an opportunity to make money playing the sport that we love and also just being the person that you are,” Body said. “So with that I feel like it’s something you can take advantage of due to the fact you can make deals with anybody.”

Body said The Fry Guys are his first NIL deal but that he is actively pursuing more. His friend and former TSU teammate, Andre Gibbs, has started his own marketing company and helped Body and University of Houston running back Ta’Zhawn Henry land deals with The Fry Guys.

Body’s parents, who live in San Antonio, are also vetting opportunities and handling the business end of things while he focuses on football.

“I also have my people back home and they are looking out too,” said Body, whose Tigers open the season on Sept. 3 at Prairie View A&M. “They basically just look over my contracts and make sure I’m good in that aspect.”

Landing her first NIL deal came a little more organically for PVAMU women’s soccer star Andrea Nugent. The SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year was sought out by Neal Harris, a PVAMU alumnus, to represent his home improvement and inspection business called Blueprint Improvement Group (BIG).

Nugent does promotions for BIG and this summer actually worked as an intern for the company.

She is certainly glad to have the opportunity to benefit off her name, image and likeness and has plans to pursue other deals while also considering selling T-shirts with her name and jersey number at games this season.

“It’s sort of like you are an entrepreneur,” Nugent said. “You showcase your talent and you get acknowledged and you get paid for it. If it wasn’t sports, it was just a job then that’s pretty much what they do. You do your job, you get paid. For college athletes, this is pretty much our job.

“So I think it’s beneficial. I actually think a lot of college athletes need to get NIL deals, especially HBCU athletes. They are definitely overlooked right now.”

HBCU student-athletes definitely aren’t making what their counterparts in the Power-5 leagues are making, but there is some thought that NIL could eventually level the playing field for the FCS schools. Some of the high-profile athletes at Jackson State, where Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders is the head coach, have benefited the most in the HBCU ranks.

Travis Hunter, who is the first No. 1 overall recruit to sign with an HBCU, is believed to have already made over $250,000 in NIL money before he has played a down for Jackson State. Sanders’ sons Shedeur and Shilo have also inked major deals with Gatorade, Tom Brady’s apparel company and a Porsche dealership.

The idea that HBCU student-athletes can make real money was enough for Alabama coach Nick Saban to make unfounded claims that Jackson State lured Hunter from his commitment to Florida State with a $1 million NIL deal.

TSU coach Clarence McKinney is all in with players being able to make money off what is rightfully theirs.

“When I was a college athlete myself, I wrote a paper on college athletes getting some kind of funding, more than what we were getting at that time,” he said. “I’m all for it. I don’t think there needs to be a cap on it. There is not a cap on coaches’ salaries, so why should we put a cap on student-athletes.

“In my opinion, student-athletes should have the right to get paid for their name, image and likeness.”

SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland is in favor of NIL and believes that the effective use of it will lure recruits to member schools who once would not have considered signing with an HBCU.

“We obviously embrace name, image and likeness,” McClelland told The Defender. “I think some of our schools have done a tremendous job of showing that name, image and likeness can kind of level the playing field. So we are very excited about that opportunity.

“Do you want to be a big fish in an ocean or do you want to be a really big fish in a big lake? You take a look at what Travis Hunter did at Jackson State, he is just one example. Look at all of the exposure. Would he had been on the Cover of Sports Illustrated had he not chosen Jackson State?

“Those are opportunities that we have always known have existed in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Now, name, image and likeness opens it up for you to where you can now get compensated. So to me it kind of levels the playing field in totality. You can now achieve everything here that you could at one of those Power 5 institutions.”

But right now, the deep pockets of the boosters at Power 5 schools and other Division I programs are seeming to widen the gap. Recently, Texas Tech’s Matador Club signed 85 scholarship football players and 15 walk-ons to one-year NIL deals worth $25,000 each while SMU’s booster group, Boulevard Collective, is set to pay the football players and men’s basketball players $36,000 this academic year.

UH football standouts Donovan Mutin (linebacker) and Clayton Tune recently signed NIL deals with the local Chastang Ford Dealership. Student-athletes can make money while others may get the free use of dealership vehicles to drive around.

Some schools have hired firms to seek out NIL deals for their student-athletes. So far Grambling State is believed to be the only HBCU football program to have helped to secure NIL deals for every player on the team.

“The NIL is the different animal because you’ve got to compete that way,” said Hue Jackson, who is in his first year heading up GSU after a long career as an NFL head coach.  

“Obviously coaches are not involved in that but you’ve got to have the right elective or whatever that is on the outside of people who are willing to help you in that space because if you don’t play in that space you are going to get left behind. The alumni who want you to win have to understand you can’t win if you don’t have that kind of support. So you better get it and you better get it fast.”