ELKTON — On July 12, Elkton lawyer Jobeth Bowers’ sports agency, 1st Down Sports, announced that they had helped Gervon Dexter, a sophomore defensive lineman at the University of Florida, sign the first endorsement deal for a Southeastern Conference defensive lineman.
Bowers and 1st Down helped Dexter, who played in all 12 of Florida’s games last year and started 2, sign a deal with College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving, a moving company based in Gainesville, Fla.
As part of the partnership, Dexter will be a public face representing College HUNKS in and around Gainesville at events and in advertisements. Additionally, both Dexter and College HUNKS will be working towards expanding the HUNKS franchise in the Gainesville area.
“The opportunities here are endless, and will create a framework to launch him into the [NFL] upon eligibility,” said Bowers, who serves as the head of Corporate Partnership Development for 1st Down Sports.
1st Down, founded by Bowers and his partner, former-college-football-coach-turned-marketing-agent Mark Bailey, after one of Bowers’ legal clients requested help getting his son, a collegiate tackle, ready for the NFL. After getting certified, Bowers dove into the world of sports agency feet first.
“I never dreamed of [being an agent] as a kid,” said Bowers, who also runs his Elkton law practice full-time. “But it’s fun. I get to travel a lot.”
The Dexter-College HUNKS deal comes in the wake of the NCAA’s June 30 decision to allow NCAA athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. Previously, the NCAA prevented collegiate athletes from receiving any kind of financial profit or incentive on pain of losing their NCAA eligibility.
Bowers noted that, under the previous rules, he would not have been able to buy a cup of coffee for a player interested in being represented by 1st Down.
Players and programs who have violated this rule in the past have faced heavy-handed punishment, up to and including the ‘death penalty’ which bans an entire program from competing for at least a year — most infamously levied against the 1987 Southern Methodist University football team.
Now, active NCAA players will be able to sign endorsement deals and profit on their own image and play, without losing their eligibility. The sudden change in the rules has led to a scramble as players and agents alike explore their new options.
“It’s a new landscape,” said Bowers. “People are still figuring it out.”
For 1st Down and Dexter, the rule change looks to be a golden opportunity. An entrepreneur at heart, Dexter had launched his own clothing line, G9 Apparel, even before the NCAA made their decision. G9’s launch sold out within minutes.
According to Bowers, Dexter did all the work on the clothing line himself, and is already looking forward to new business opportunities.
“We knew that we were working with a guy that was a little different,” said Bowers. “In the sense that he gets things that other people don’t.”
During discussions around the College HUNKS deal, Dexter expressed interest in running a franchise himself. Though his idea didn’t come to fruition, Bowers said that Dexter’s business mind is a trait that 1st Down strives to build in their clients.
With the average NFL career lasting only a little over 3 years, 1st Down encourages players to think of what they will do with their lives the day after they retire from football.
“We focus with our clients on how to build that next day,” said Bowers.
1st Down currently represents 3 active NFL players – Tyshun Render of the Miami Dolphins, Kristian Wilkerson of the New England Patriots and Spencer Brown of the Carolina Panthers – and a number of current NCAA players.
The agency focuses on actively recruiting a number of players from each class year that they represent and guide through their collegiate, and hopefully professional, football careers. According to Bowers, that can mean meeting with over 50 potential clients in a given class before whittling their prospects down to only 3-4 players that sign with the agency.
Bowers noted that players at different positions can offer different opportunities and challenges.
“We try to stay out of the quarterback game,” said Bowers, explaining that the high-profile nature of the position makes life harder for both agents and the players.
Now that players can profit off their own likenesses, 1st Down is hunting down opportunities such as the College HUNKS endorsement to set their players up. For Dexter, Bowers mentioned that they are targeting deals that would provide the Florida lineman with equity. Which, Bowers and Dexter both hope, will set him up for his long-term, post-football career.
“We’re not financial advisors,” said Bowers. “But we try to help the guys.”