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Meet Rayquan Smith, the 'King of NIL'

Pete Nakos06/07/22
Article written by:On3 imagePete Nakos

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Rayquan Smith
Norfolk State Athletics

Rayquan Smith never set out with any intentions of dominating the NIL era when it launched last July.

He actually was just hoping to land a job with the local Planet Fitness. The Norfolk State football and track athlete remembers scrolling on Instagram and seeing athletes sign deals while he waited to hear back on the athletic training job.

Instead of holding out, however, Rayquan Smith quickly hatched together a plan. Developing a pitch, he emailed company after company, even offering his services for free. Only three companies responded after the first round of emails. But as he continued to expand his list of companies, his list of deals grew.

“I was hitting up every company I could, just asking, ‘Can I do this, can I help promote your product?'” he told On3. “This, this and that. And I had a few people reply back.”

The Richmond, Virginia, native excelled as a two-sport athlete at Highland Springs. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in five games as a freshman at Norfolk State in 2019. And despite the 2020 season being shut down due to COVID-19, it didn’t stop him from getting his name out there in the early days of NIL.

He fondly remembers his first deal being with Smart Cups. Soon after, he became the first HBCU athlete to ink a partnership with Eastbay.

By mid-July 2021, he signed agent Freddie Berry as his NIL representative.

“I guess other companies saw what I was doing, so they came on board and I got an agent that week. Then once I got an agent, I got one of my biggest deals and that was Eastbay. Yep. So after that, it was just up from there.”

Rayquan Smith’s growing brand

The deals have not slowed down, either. He just inked his latest deal with Spikeball, which Smith told On3 is one of his largest next to Eastbay. Among other notable brands is Body Armour, G.O.A.T. Fuel, Arby’s, Champs Sports and the Norfolk Admirals hockey team.

Berry told On3 that in less than a year the Norfolk State athlete has signed 66 deals that has brought a profit “well into the five-figures.” Darren Heitner, a sports lawyer who helped launch the Cavinder Twins at the start of the NIL era, confirmed to On3 Smith’s quantity of deals is the most he’s seen.

“There aren’t many athletes at that create content the way that he does,” Berry said. “I’ve worked with Power Five starters, best player on their team arguably, and they’re nowhere near as good when it comes to the NIL aspect. Their photos are just on their Instagram page or just them in their helmet. They’re not willing to kind of step outside of that realm and dabble into the actual marketing side of NIL like him.”

Smith injured his Lisfranc this past football season, only playing in four games, which put his track career on hold. Since entering and withdrawing from the transfer portal, he has decided to stay at Norfolk State and focus solely on the decathlon.

None of this has hindered his potential value as a promoter for these companies. He was Kevin Garnett’s first guest on Showtime’s “KG CERTIFIED: YOUNG LIONS” back in January.

And since he went all in on NIL last July, he has seen significant growth across all of his social media accounts. He currently has over 18,000 on Instagram and is closing in on 100,000 on TikTok.

Berry and Smith have discussed future plans including TV commercials and public speaking events.

King of NIL

After Rayquan Smith signed one of his 66 NIL partnerships, one of his friends couldn’t resist replying to him on Twitter.

“I guess somebody had said on a tweet I was the King of NIL,” he said. “I was like ‘King of NIL, that’s a good name.’ So I’ve embraced it and ran with it.”

The rising senior at Norfolk State studying mass communication has welcomed the nickname. He has made shoelaces with the phrase and has plans for future merchandise. Smith has lived up to it, too. This fall he was named the HBCU Male Athlete of the Year by the HBCU Xperience.

Next week in Atlanta, he has an opportunity to add a few more awards to his name at the NIL Summit. He is up for male athlete of the year next to UCLA’s Chase Griffin, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, LSU’s Shareef O’Neal and Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders.

He’s also been nominated for the hustle award, which recognizes the student-athlete that has excelled in the NIL space.

Rayquan Smith could be taking both the awards home or none. Either way it is clear he’s made a mark in Year 1 of NIL.