Masai Russell, pro wrestler? The Kentucky track and field athlete and social media influencer is among the 15 college athletes in the WWE’s inaugural “Next In Line” (NIL) class. The program was announced last week and will serve to recruit and develop potential future WWE superstars.
All athletes will have access to the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., in addition to resources across the organization, including brand building, media training, communications, live event promotion, creative writing, and community relations. Upon completion of the NIL program, select athletes may earn an exclusive opportunity to be offered a WWE contract.
Inaugural WWE “Next in Line” Class
- Carlos Aviles, of Ventura, Calif., a 6-foot-6, 305-pound track & field athlete from Ohio State University
- Haley Cavinder, of Gilbert, Ariz., a 5-foot-6 basketball player from Fresno State University
- Hanna Cavinder, of Gilbert, Ariz., a 5-foot-6 basketball player from Fresno State University
- A.J. Ferrari of Dallas, Texas, a 6-foot, 200-pound wrestler from Oklahoma State University
- Lexi Gordon of Fort Worth, Texas, a 6-foot basketball player from Duke University
- Aleeya Hutchins of Toronto, Canada, a 5-foot-5 track & field athlete from Wake Forest University
- John Krahn of Riverside, Calif., a 7-foot, 400-pound football player from Portland State University
- Glen Logan of Kenner, La., a 6-foot-5, 305-pound football player from LSU
- Isaac Odugbesan of Lagos, Nigeria, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound football player from the University of Alabama
- Mason Parris of Lawrenceburg, Ind., a 6-foot-2, 275-pound wrestler from the University of Michigan
- Masai Russel of Potomac, Md., a 5-foot-5 track & field athlete from the University of Kentucky
- Jon Seaton of Hillsborough, N.J., a 6-foot-1, 285-pound football player from Elon University
- Joe Spivak of Lombard, Ill., a 6-foot, 300-pound football player from Northwestern University
- Dalton Wagner of Spring Grove, Ill., a 6-foot-9, 330-pound football player from the University of Arkansas
- Riley White of Hoover, Ala., a 5-foot-6 track & field athlete from the University of Alabama
Masai Russell’s Growing NIL Portfolio
Russell has the largest social media following of any UK student-athlete. The senior hurdler has over 424,000 followers on TikTok, 156,000 followers on Instagram, and 5,000 followers on Twitter. So far, she has NIL deals with Champs Sports, Eastbay, and Third Love, among others. When NIL rules went into effect over the summer, athletics director Mitch Barnhart used Russell as an example of how he wants UK student-athletes to approach opportunities.
“Masai Russell has the largest social media following of anybody in our department by far,” Barnhart said. “It’s not close. But she doesn’t wake up every day just rolling out and saying okay, who all is going to join me? She works at it. She works at it not because she’s a tremendous track athlete — and by the way, she is — she works at it because she’s found a way in what she’s trying to do for a life beyond track and field to be able to put something together for her. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness that it will take for us to be able to watch them, help them, for them to be able to help themselves, and find their way to this unique spot. And that’s really, really a cool thing.”
Russell was Kentucky’s top female finisher at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June, placing fourth in the 400m hurdles and sixth in the 100m hurdles. She and the rest of the Kentucky track and field team begin their indoor season with a single-day dual meet at the University of Louisville this Saturday, December 11.