Skip to main content

Jaden Rashada sues Florida head coach Billy Napier, top booster over NIL dispute

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos05/21/24


QB Jaden Rashada SUES Florida coach Billy Napier and mega-booster Hugh Hathcock

Sixteen months ago, Florida released quarterback Jaden Rashada from his National Letter of Intent following a highly publicized, NIL-fueled breakup. Now that separation is at the center of a lawsuit. 

At the heart of the split was a four-year, $13.85 million contract that played a crucial role in Rashada flipping his commitment from Miami to Florida in November 2022. According to court documents, the Gators ultimately reneged on the unprecedented NIL collective agreement, leaving the quarterback without a school and out millions of dollars. 

Rashada – now at Georgia after spending his freshman year at Arizona State – filed a 37-page complaint Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida that claims he was repeatedly lied to for him to flip his commitment from Miami to Florida. 

Gators’ head coach Billy Napier, former Florida director of NIL and player engagement Marcus Castro-Walker and well-known UF booster Hugh Hathcock are named as defendants. The lawsuit also names Hathcock’s former company, Velocity Automotive, which was supposed to be used to help fund the financial package.

On3 is in the process of reaching out to the defendants for comment. Sources told On3 that Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was aware of the lawsuit being filed and signed off on it.

Castro-Walker did not immediately return a request for comment.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the University are named in the complaint,” Florida athletic department spokesman Steve McClain told On3 regarding Rashada’s lawsuit against Napier. “The UAA will provide for Coach Napier’s personal counsel, and we will direct all questions to those representatives.”

Rashada is suing on counts of fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentations, tortious interference, aiding and abetting tortious interference and vicarious liability. The complaint is an unprecedented look into high-level NIL negotiations in college football.

“Defendants’ goals were two-fold: (1) to ensure Jaden remained committed to UF; and (2) to avoid paying the promised NIL funds,” the complaint states. “Defendants knew that for most college athletes the prospect of NIL earnings is life changing. Defendants exploited this fact for their own personal advantage.”

Sources tell On3 that the drafting of this lawsuit has been a months-long process. The University of Florida is not cited as a defendant, despite the school’s head coach and a former employee being named as defendants. Rashada has tapped attorney Rusty Hardin as counsel. Hardin has built a reputation for working with athletes, with former clients including Warren Moon, Roger Clemens and Deshaun Watson

Much of the lawsuit circles around alleged actions violating NCAA rules. Donor-driven NIL collectives are crucial to attracting and retaining talent. Just one school has seen NIL infractions levied against them. The NCAA is currently powerless over the world of NIL, as President Charlie Baker halted all investigations this winter after losing a preliminary injunction in Tennessee.

Docs: Florida did whatever it took to get Jaden Rashada

Jaden Rashada’s fractured relationship with Florida dates back to his high school recruitment when he initially committed to Miami on June 26, 2022. According to the complaint, Rashada signed a $9.5 million NIL deal with Miami booster John Ruiz. The founder of LifeWallet would later be paid $150,000 by Rashada, and the cash was provided by Hathcock so the quarterback could avoid litigation, the filing states.

“LifeWallet nor John H. Ruíz ever had any deal with Rashada that amounted to 9.5 million dollars. LifeWallet had a very small deal with Rashada while he was a high school student in California,” Ruiz said in a statement provided to On3. “Rashada and his father are stand up individuals. To date, I personally have a very good relationship with both. They both know we dealt with them honestly and fairly as we have always done with all NIL players.

“… While I have my own view of this matter, at this point the interests of this young man should be the focus.”

Over the course of an official visit to Florida in early June 2022, Hathcock told Rashada he could make whatever needed to be done for him to land with the Gators, according to the lawsuit. According to the complaint, the booster also “suggested” he could secure employment for Jaden Rashada’s father, Harlen Rashada

After his commitment to Miami, the court docs say Hathcock “offered Jaden an approximately $11 million UF-affiliated NIL deal” that would have run through the booster’s Velocity Automotive and his NIL collective, The Gator Guard

The suit says talks with Florida reignited roughly four months later when Castro-Walker reached out to Rasada’s agents, Jackson Zager and Tommy Thomsen, in October 2022. According to the suit, the former director of player engagement sent a text message saying “We need to lock down Jaden!” He also wrote, “[UF would] want [Jaden] to flip this week.”

Negotiations between Hathcock, Castro-Walker and Rashada’s representation started shortly after, according to the lawsuit. As part of the $13.85 million contract eventually agreed upon, Hathcock would pay $5.35 million, including a $500,000 “signing bonus,” through Hathcock’s company Velocity Automotive, court documents state. 

“But Hathcock, Castro-Walker and Coach Napier all knew something that Jaden did not – no one had any intention of enforcing Hathcock’s promise to pay $500,000,” the filing states. “Nor did they have any way of enforcing it.”

On Nov. 10, 2022, the same day Rashada would ultimately flip to Florida, Hathcock declined to use Velocity Automotive or the Gator Guard to directly fund the NIL payments, according to the complaint. Documents say Castro-Walker and Hathcock instead opted to work with the other Florida-driven NIL collective, The Gator Collective, and the booster planned to pay Rashada through the collective. 

According to the filing, Jennifer Grosso, The Gator Collective’s attorney, drafted the NIL contract. She later said in a phone call, per the lawsuit, that Hathcock would wire monthly payments to the collective and ultimately to Rashada.

“I might go to sleep if I had $500K headed my way in two weeks,” Grosso wrote in a text, according to the complaint. “But we need a commitment to get there!!!”

Jaden Rashada never received bonus, per filing

Jaden Rashada’s first payment was scheduled for Dec. 5, 2022, in the amount of $500,000 – a signing bonus, sources previously told On3. That payment never materialized, despite multiple reassurances, according to the case. On Dec. 6, the day after the bonus was due, the Gator Collective terminated the contract in a letter sent to Rashada, sources told On3. 

On National Signing Day on Dec. 21, 2022, the quarterback had still not received a payment, according to the case. Rashada delayed the signature of his National Letter of Intent. 

“These actions culminated with Coach Napier himself vouching that UF alumni were good on their promise that Jaden would receive $1 million if he signed with UF on National Signing Day,” the complaint states. “Defendant Castro-Walker leveraged the coach’s promise that Napier would ‘get it done,’ and threatened – on National Signing Day – that, if Jaden did not sign a national letter of intent with UF, Coach Napier might walk away from Jaden entirely.

“Despite the threats and promises, neither Coach Napier nor wealthy boosters like Hathcock ever ‘got it done’ for Jaden.”

Case states Billy Napier, defendants ‘defrauded’ Rashada

According to the lawsuit, the four defendants defrauded the quarterback by “falsely promising” the $13.85 million contract when knowing the agreement would not be fulfilled and “neither they nor Hathcock had any intention of fulfilling it.” The complaint also cites false statements that were allegedly made to Rashada, including the $1 million payout he would receive for signing the National Letter of Intent.

Among the counts against the defendants are aiding and abetting fraud. For the fraud to be executed, the complaint argues, Castro-Walker, Hathcock and Napier were “substantially and knowingly assisted by one another.”

“The purpose of these promises was obviously – and indisputably – to induce Jaden to change universities and football programs,” the complaint states. 

The complaint outlines that because Hathcock was an officer and employee of Velocity Automotive, the company committed vicarious liability. Therefore, according to the complaint, Velocity is responsible for the acts and omissions of Hathcock.

The defendants also allegedly committed tortious interference by interfering with the $9.5 million contract with Ruiz and the quarterback’s business relationships at Miami. Castro-Walker, Hathcock and Napier did so knowing they could not fulfill their $13.85 million promise, per the filing. Because of these actions, the case states Rashada suffered a financial loss, according to the complaint. 

For the tortious interference to happen, the defendants had to aid and abet each other, the suit argues. 

“Defendants specifically intended to end Jaden’s agreement and business relationship with Miami for their own personal benefit and to Jaden’s detriment,” the filing states.

Lawyer: Rashada taking stand against ‘egregious behavior’

When Jaden Rashada ultimately severed his ties to Florida and reopened his high school recruitment, all NIL contracts he had previously signed were nonexistent. Playing for Arizona State did not come with any lucrative financial packages. The complaint states he did not pursue or was promised any NIL commitments. 

Viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 cycle, Rashada boasted a strong arm with plenty of upside. What UGA saw on tape during the portal process this spring was enough for the Dawgs to take him. 

The complaint argues Rashada suffered “significant damages” from the fraud committed by the defendants. Among them, a $9.5 million contract at Miami and the lost opportunity to pursue and secure financial packages from other NIL collectives “after being induced to commit to UF based on fraudulent assurances.”

Castro-Walker is no longer with the Florida program. Hathcock, a longtime Florida booster, is not involved in NIL activities and his Gator Guard collective shut down. Napier is entering a pivotal year in his future at Florida. 

“Sadly, this type of fraud is becoming more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college NIL landscape,” Hardin said in a statement provided to On3. “Wealthy alumni, consumed by their schools’ athletic programs, are taking advantage of young people by offering them life-changing sums of money, only to renege on their commitments.

“As the first scholar-athlete to take a stand against this egregious behavior, Jaden seeks to hold these defendants accountable for their actions and to expose their as-yet unchecked abuse of power.”