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All-America recruiting confidential: Elite ’23 prospects discuss NIL deals, photo shoots, best visit

We caught up with more than a dozen of the best high school football players in the country last week at the Under Armour All-America Game’s media day event to tackle a variety of recruiting topics.

We granted them anonymity to gather their insights on NIL deals that were floated their way, the coaches who recruited them the hardest but didn’t sign them, and what advice they’d give the Class of 2024 as the next crop of top prospects sets out on their own journeys in the months ahead.

Some elite high school seniors said they passed on big paydays to sign with the program that could develop them the best.

A few already have transfer schools picked out.

What was the largest amount of NIL money discussed with you by a coach or NIL representative?

Player 1: $400K a year. It was surprising, for sure, playing defensive back.

Player 2: I never had money tossed my way in any conversations.

Player 3: Somebody tried to throw $1 million at me on signing day. Somebody called my parents and coaches. My loyalty to the program I signed with isn’t worth a million dollars. I’ll make that in no time.

Player 4: I don’t want to answer that one. It was more than $1 million.

Player 5: (One) school mentioned $3.2 million over four years.

Player 8: Nobody talked NIL with me or threw money at me.

Player 10: Over seven figures. It wasn’t the coaches. It was a guy who did NIL stuff. The closer I got to the commitment, the more and more things went up.

Player 11: You’re going to look at me like I’m dumb. It was $75,000, a car and my own apartment. But I know you are not getting money if you’re bad. The school introduces you to the people who are going to pay you.

Player 12: Numbers didn’t come up, but (a few schools) talked about what I could get. Schools knew that wasn’t going to attract me, though, so they didn’t talk about it much.

Player 13: The biggest amount of money was $3 million over four years. You want to get paid for your results. It played a factor, but not as big as some people think.

Player 14: There were some big numbers, but nothing specific. It was like between $50K and $75K. With the game nowadays, it’s normal. Those prices can range depending on how much of an impact you make with the program.

Player 15: I didn’t have any numbers float my way. I had a bond with the coach and made my decision based off that.

Where did NIL rank in your decision-making process: first, second or third? And if it didn’t finish first, what other factors were more important?

Player 1: It finished third. No. 1 was player development.

Player 2: It was second or third. I didn’t really know much about NIL, but it played a role. The only thing more important for me was the relationships with the coaches. You have to bond with them.

Player 3: Last. Relationships, player development were No. 1 and No. 2.

Player 4: It was third. To me, relationships and a school that was going to develop me were the first two. Then a scheme that fits me best.

Player 5: Third. NIL will help me feed my family and keep money in my pocket. Education and football, though, were No. 1 and No. 2.

Player 6: Third. Academics first, the coaching staff and the system I was going to play in were next.

Player 7: Third, really. I just want to play football. I know NIL is a big part of the world now. But I was thinking long-term.

Player 8: Third for me. Academics were No. 1 and then stuff on the field.

Player 9: It was second for me. I want to make money in college, but I know making the NFL is the best way to get paid.

Player 10: Third. Relationships and player development were first and second.

Player 11: Third. If you’re not playing well, you don’t make any money. Everybody knows that. It’s the system that fits me and my playing style, where I’m comfortable, can grow as a player and make the NFL. I need a coach that’s going to keep it a buck with me all the time.

Player 12: Definitely last. I just wanted to go somewhere I could get properly developed.

Player 13: Third. Development, the environment and the people I’ll be around are more important.

Player 14: It wasn’t first, second or third. It played no role for me. It was all about culture, the championship tradition. We all know the money is going to come.

Player 15: Probably third. Playing time was No. 1 for me as a freshman.

Which school or coach you didn’t sign with recruited you the hardest, and why didn’t you sign with them?

Player 1: Michigan State. It was nothing personal. I felt like it was a better decision for me to go elsewhere.

Player 2: Arizona’s (offensive coordinator) Brennan Carroll and (head coach) Jedd Fisch recruited me the hardest. No disrespect. I loved their program. But I signed with the program I did because of the relationships I have with those coaches. I like the way they teach. It’s similar to the way I’m being taught now.

Player 3: Alabama recruited me the hardest, more so than the school I signed with. (Defensive line coach Freddie) Roach, (head coach Nick) Saban and (cornerbacks coach) T-Rob (Travaris Robinson) did a great job. I just had better opportunities elsewhere.

Player 4: Florida State. (Offensive coordinator Alex Atkins) and coach (Mike) Norvell. I didn’t sign with them because of the point of where I was in my recruitment. They came in too late. But I got two schools in mind now if, God forbid, things don’t work out and I have to go to the portal.

Player 6: It was probably Texas A&M toward the end and Ohio State at the beginning. (Ohio State wide receivers) coach (Brian) Hartline, (Texas A&M wide receivers coach James) Coley and (Aggies head coach Jimbo) Fisher were excellent. They had great systems. But where I signed was best for me.

Player 7: Michigan State. I don’t really like them. The culture wasn’t a fit.

Player 8: Brian Kelly and LSU. I just felt like LSU wasn’t for me.

Player 9: Oregon and (associate head coach Adrian) Klemm. Right when he got on the staff from the NFL, he recruited me and offered right away. I loved that dude. But the picture they were building wasn’t the same as the school I signed with.

Player 10: (Miami’s) coach (Mario) Cristobal recruited me the hardest outside of the school I signed with. Why didn’t I sign? Because the school I’m going to has more for me in my college experience.

Player 11: Georgia Tech. I love Atlanta. It fits my personality. That felt like home to me. But their coach got fired in the middle of the year, and the position coach left. There was too much going on. I can’t be in a program that isn’t stable. It has to be sturdy, already built in so I can grow. If it’s shaky, everything is shaky. It starts up top. If not, it trickles down. I look bad. My teammates look bad. We can’t have that.

Player 12: Florida and Kentucky. At the end, Florida stopped calling. Kentucky, (defensive coordinator Brad) White was cool. But I only went there to make sure I was sticking with my first choice.

Player 13: Tennessee. For me, it was about development.

Player 14: (Former Auburn assistant Christian) Robinson and (Penn State defensive coordinator Manny) Diaz. Great coaches. Recruited me hard. Went to both schools. I love both of those guys. I feel like we’ll always have that connection.

Player 15: FSU. If I had to transfer, FSU would be the spot.

Which school’s photo shoot was the coolest and why? What memorable props were used?

Player 1: Oregon. They’ve got the best uniforms. Louisville was second. They had some nice photographers at those schools.

Player 2: Arizona had nice visors that represented my ethnicity. We actually had coaches get in the water with us for the pictures.

Player 3: I liked Florida’s. I just liked the jersey combos. I loved the blue jersey and white pants. I liked the colors.

Player 5: Oregon had the best photo shoot because of all the different uniforms.

Player 6: USC. We took photos in pads and regular pictures in USC clothing. They had cars. Plus, they had the Heisman trophies.

Player 7: Cincinnati. There was one shoot where I was in the snow. Took a photo with a big (Dodge Ram) TRX. It was cool.

Player 8: Texas A&M was the best. The people I took the photos with made it awesome.

Player 9: Texas A&M was the best. They threw random props on you, and they have a really good media team. USC was good, too. They used a bunch of lowriders on my (official visit).

Player 10: Oregon was the coolest. I was the only kid on my visit. They had all kinds of special stuff. We went to the stadium, boxing gym and used motorcycles in the photos. We even used a sleep pod. We did the photo shoot for hours. I loved the all-black uniforms.

Player 11: People say Penn State, but it’s so generic now. Everybody’s been to Penn State. The coolest? Georgia Tech. They had the Lamborghinis out, the G-Wagons, Ferraris. Georgia Tech showed us what it has to offer.

Player 12: I took the best pictures at Maryland, Tennessee and Kentucky. I sent them to my people or kept them on my phone.

Player 13: I did a lot of photo shoots. The best one was Georgia. They had bubble guns. Thrones, 360 media view and backgrounds.

Player 14: Florida State, UCF were good. Clemson was my favorite. Loved the barber shop pics. Penn State had stuffed lions. They switch it up every time, too. That’s a great way for schools to recruit players. I still have all my photos. I have over 500.

How many on-campus photo shoots did you participate in throughout the years, and what did you do with those photos?

Player 1: Probably 20-plus. I just saved them in my camera phone.

Player 2: I can’t remember. A lot. Like a lot, a lot.

Player 5: Probably 15 or 20. I posted most of them. Some of them I kept to myself.

Player 6: Probably 20. I saved most of the photos. Once I committed, I wanted to go to other schools to experience the recruiting process because you only get to experience it once.

Player 7: Ten. A few I didn’t post.

Player 8: I took over 700 photos in one place. … It was kind of a waste of time.

Player 9: I’d say about 15. It was good to go around and see a bunch of schools and get to know them.

Player 10: Somewhere in the teens. Some schools printed the photos out for me, and I have some with me. The ones I liked the best I saved on my camera phone.

Player 11: Rutgers, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Ole Miss were some of the others. Ole Miss was nice, too.

What advice would you give to 2024 recruits from lessons you learned throughout the process?

Player 1: Pay attention to who is real and who is fake in this little business. College football is definitely business. It’s hard to tell who is fake. But pay attention to the text messages because a lot of times the people you think you’re talking to you’re not really talking to.

Player 3: Be honest with yourself. When you know what’s best for you, don’t be in a denial period. Pick the school and commit.

Player 4: Take your time. Find a coach who is genuine. Find a scheme that fits you. Find somewhere you’ll not only get developed on the field but off the field. Find coaches who truly care about you when you don’t have a football in your hand or aren’t providing something for them. Don’t make NIL the main part of your decision. Because if you ball, make plays, it’ll find you. Like the NFL. Think of NIL the same way.

Player 5: Work hard and don’t worry about the rankings. You have to feed your family and stay focused on that.

Player 9: I built a lot of relationships with coaches. I feel like if I went into the portal, they’d (be there for) me with open arms. You want to have options. In the end, put God first because a lot of the recruits don’t know if you don’t have God, you wouldn’t be in the position you are now. And be close to your family. You don’t know how much time you have with them.

Player 10: Enjoy the experience and take all the opportunities to make visits. Don’t be stressed. They’re all great schools and unique experiences. To me, I got to see a lot of places. Follow your heart in the end. Don’t let the coaches manipulate your decision. Go where you want. Some coaches may try to guilt you or downplay the other schools you visit. That’s a red flag if you have to make fun of other schools. The school I’m going to showed me what they have instead of what they have more of than others.

Player 12: Don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamor. Find a home. Find people you want to play for and take care of you. There were times I was texting with my coach, and then all of a sudden I got a DM from him on Twitter. I’m like, who am I talking to? This his secretary or something?

Player 14: Don’t make your decision just off the money because it’s a four-year decision. Don’t rush anything. Weigh all your options, and when it feels right, don’t hesitate. Pick the best schools for you and your family. Keep the outside distractions out and get to as many places as you can as possible.

Best hotel, city and restaurant from your trips?

Player 4: The nicest place to visit was Cali. The best meal? Texas. I ate steaks, BBQ. I put on, like, five to 10 pounds when I went out there. I came back and had to work out to lose it instantly.

Player 5: Oregon had the nicest suite. I like steakhouses. They took me to the best one.

Player 6: JW Marriott with USC. They also took us out to eat at this place in Malibu on the water. Food was great. Steak, seafood and a whole bunch of fish I’d never seen.

Player 7: Kentucky. I think it was a Marriott. We had some steaks and burgers at a place right around the corner.

Player 8: Probably LSU for city. Texas A&M had the best hotel: The George. The room was nice. The best restaurant was this cajun place at LSU. Great shrimp pasta.

Player 9: College Station for all of them. Everything is bigger in Texas. T-bone steaks, chicken fried steaks, anything you can think of. We had a lot of meals with Jimbo. USC had the nicest hotel — right in the heart of L.A. Lot of props and stuff in the room. Pictures of me. USC snacks. It was just crazy.

Player 10: Miami. The other places were college towns. Embassy Suites at Alabama was nice. The best restaurant was in Oregon. We ate in the middle of the stadium and had it catered.

Player 11: Virginia Tech. I love home-cooked food. We had a backyard cookout in front of the stadium. We threw water balloons. Nice hotel? Georgia Tech.

Player 12: Best food was Tennessee and Clemson. Just the cafeteria food. Best city? Knoxville, College Park or Lexington. Nicest hotel? Maryland. Everything was new, and it was big.

Player 15: Arkansas. All of it was nice.

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