Episode 2: "King of NIL" on hustle, responsibility and paying it forward

By Luke Conway



In this episode of Zone In, Rayquan Smith, track star at Norfolk State and the 2022 Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) Hustle Award winner, sits down with hosts Kayvon Thibodeaux (former Oregon Duck and current New York Giant) and Chase Griffin (UCLA quarterback and two-time NIL Athlete of the Year). The three discuss Rayquan’s NIL deals – which number more than 80, including partnerships with Bodyarmor, Arby's and Champs Sports.



Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) vs. Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs)



Rayquan and Kayvon share their different college experiences – Rayquan at the historically Black Norfolk State University and Kayvon at the predominantly White University of Oregon. Kayvon describes his time at Oregon as a great educational experience and an overall great time, but he adds that there was “a feeling” that came with being the only African American student in the class: “A certain feeling of guilt or remorse because I was only adequate enough because of what I did on the field.”


Meanwhile, Rayquan says he chose Norfolk State because he thought a smaller school would help him focus on his academics – and he was intrigued by the idea of an HBCU and “being around your own kind every day.” He tells Kayvon that today he has no doubt he made the right decision.



The king of NIL



Being at an HBCU rather than a PWI also had ramifications in the emerging world of NIL. When the Supreme Court ruling on NIL came down, the pipelines were already in place for athletes from elite PWIs to begin earning money for their likenesses. But at a lesser-known school like Norfolk State, Rayquan had to do more on his own. He says he learned how to be a go-getter from both his mom and his dad (who died when he was 12), and when the NIL policy changed on July 21, 2021, he was ready to hustle.


“I wrote a form, sent it to 100 companies, then I went to sleep,” he remembers. “I woke back up and I see three companies responded back. The week after that, I signed with an agent. I knew the time was ready, I could trust him. And once I signed with him July 14, everything took off.”


Rayquan was already a proficient content creator with profiles across social media channels. And then one day on Twitter, someone tweeted about him, “Yo, this dude is really the King of NIL. He got 66 deals.” Rayquan says he took a quick screenshot, sent it to his agent, and said, “Look, we got to take advantage of this right now before anybody else takes it." Before long he was the acknowledged King of NIL. In 2022, he won the NIL Hustle Award.



Success, money and keeping it going



Chase, Kayvon and Rayquan also discuss the logistics of achieving and maintaining financial success through NIL deals. Chase describes how one of the key factors is that the deals are mutually beneficial to the companies and the athletes. “I think that's the best part about NIL,” he says. “As more brands invest in it, then they'll see more return on investment. As long as athletes keep hustling and keep in mind that they add value to everything that they're in, then we can grow this market and everyone else can [benefit].”


All three agree that NIL laws offer a unique opportunity for athletes and other Black community members to grow and pass down wealth. And the idea of helping others to benefit is a driving force for Rayquan – one he hopes to continue as he moves forward.


“What's next for me is I'm moving towards a NIL consulter,” he says. “I feel like I have more value [there] with helping people. The NIL, that's cool getting deals and everything, but I think it's way bigger than that. I want to help other people get deals. I want to teach them the sauce that I learned for myself. I want to teach them the aspect, the business side, the content creation side, the social media side, the financial side. I want to show them all the sides so they can be successful too.”