By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY– During his freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, Anton Harrison was rolling the streets in his Chevrolet Cruze. It was the first official car for the Washington D.C, native.
At 6-5, 315 pounds, Harrison made for an interesting site cruising through campus packed tight into the compact Cruze.
Fast forward just over two years and Harrison has upgraded his transportation. Now when he heads to practice, the junior offensive lineman will be sitting comfortably behind the wheel of a 2017 Jaguar XE 35t First Edition.
“Tuesday and Thursday we do skills and drills practice and everybody on the team come at the same time,” Harrison said. “So, I just feel like I have to pull in the parking lot at the right time so everybody is looking. Here at OU, there are lots of people with good cars. You see them every day. But everybody is going to see that new car in the lot.”
The Jaguar was part of the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) deal Harrison signed with the Orr Auto Group in Oklahoma City. He joined fellow Sooners Jalil Farooq and Kelvin Gilliam to become the first collegiate athletes the dealership has done NILs with.
Aaron Leger, who is a managing partner with the Orr Auto Group (Nissan Orr Central) and also owns Boomer Kia and Sooner Kia, never imagined he would be doing NIL deals. When the NCAA approved the NIL policy in June of 2021, he didn’t think the ruling would affect his businesses.
“As a pretty avid sports fan, I knew about NIL, but because it’s so new, I thought it was reserved for the big-time flashy names,” Leger said. “To be honest I didn’t see the vision that whoever drafted the legislation saw. I am really starting to look at NIL as more of an opportunity for young men like this to get some support from their local businesses to be student-athletes and to carry out their responsibilities as student-athletes.”
The policy allows all NCAA student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL. Athletes across the country signed deals when it was first approved that ranged from small amounts of money to six-figure deals.
“I was happy like everybody else. We can finally make some money. But when it came out, I was really focused on the season,” Harrison said. “I didn’t pursue anything. So when the season ended, that is when I started to pursue more things that I like.”
That included signing a deal with Traeger Grills in which Harrison received a new grill that he plans to use and give shout-outs on social media during the season.
“I just work with and look for things I’m interested in,” Harrison said. “I don’t just do anything. I like to cook and bowl. I look for stuff that piques my interest. I am like the chef on the team. I make meals for the team sometimes. Everyone loves my rasta pasta.”
But Harrison’s NIL with Orr Auto Group is his biggest so far. However, it almost didn’t happen.
Leger’s biggest mental roadblock was that he believed only superstar quarterbacks or wide receivers would be getting NIL contracts. But when a NIL agent (Terrance Terror) was first approached about getting involved with Harrison, Gilliam and Farooq, he started seeing things differently.
“We had a genuine conversation. He seemed like a sincere guy. I started to listen to what he was talking about,” Leger said. “Then when he brought Kelvin Gilliam in and I met him, I spoke to his father the first day. We did a face-time call. He is a previous military man, mom’s a nurse. Then Kelvin himself was just so humbled to be there. I didn’t get any feeling like this was some scheme to get over on me. This was a legit opportunity to get involved with some really good young men and I wanted to do that.”
For the players, it is also a chance to build their brand and get more involved within the community.
“We have a lot of events we’re going to do like meet and greets and autograph signings at the dealership,” Harrison said. “It will help the dealership and gets our face out there. Get to see and talk to the fans. We’re doing game-day tailgates. After the game, we will come and chill with the fans for a little bit. It’s an opportunity to be more interactive with fans and the community that support us every day.”
The player’s contract includes three appearances a month that do not interfere with student or athletic schedule, according to Ledger. They will last at least 90 minutes, but no more than 3 hours.
Harrison, Farooq and Gilliam will also do 60 minutes of interviews throughout the season along with postgame tailgating at home games.
“A lot of this stuff is brand new. We don’t even have a framework on how to do the deal,” Leger said. “We just knew we had to allot some contractual time for the payment they were getting. That’s kind of how we envisioned it. Expose them to the fans more. Ultimately as an advertiser, that’s the affiliation we want. If we can align with these student-athletes, treat them well, not step on their toes, not force them into doing things that will jeopardize their future, and they get to come out and say this has been a great partnership for me, that’s what we’re looking for. That’s the value add for us.”
While Harrison got the Jaguar, Gilliam chose the Cardinal Red 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 while Farooq took the Hellraisin Red 2020 Dodge Charger. They also got $5,000.
“When they picked out their cars, obviously they are young men., we all remember being young. I’m looking at these cars like ‘oh my gosh.’ They picked out some really nice cars,” said Leger. “I remember thinking should I do this. Should I let them drive $45,000, $55,000 cars. But a loss is a loss. If they wreck them, whether it’s a $25,000 or $55, 000 car, I get an insurance adjuster involved, I pay the deductible. It costs me the same thing. I didn’t want to be short-sighted. I had already grown to trust who I was doing business with.”
Leger and the players are already looking ahead and how this NIL will not only affect them, but future players. A day after announcing the NIL, Ledger was approached by a OU gymnast who had interest in signing an NIL.
“I feel this will help with more NIL deals. This can start something big for future players. When we’re done with this, the next three or four can step up and do the same thing or even improve it,” Harrison said. “We talked about it the other day. We’re the first group to do it and hopefully like five 10 years later, it’s still going on.”
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