With his bleach-blond mullet and more than 82,000 Instagram followers, quarterback Quinn Ewers is unquestionably the best-known high school football player in the country. He’s the No. 1 overall Rivals.com recruit and is a verbal commitment to play at Ohio State.
Ewers, 18, is heading into his senior season at Southlake Carroll, a public high school in the suburbs of Dallas. He is at a vexing crossroads that could redefine high school football in Texas and elite recruiting.
Ewers has emerged as such a precocious and recognizable star that he has the potential to earn nearly a million dollars in the next year by profiting off his name, image and likeness. A local company called Holy Kombucha is among those offering a deal to Ewers, and it includes cash and equity in the company. There are several other offers, including national brands.
While this avenue of making money off NIL has become formally available to college athletes in the past month, it’s not allowed for high school athletes in Texas. The state’s University Interscholastic League informed the Ewers family in an email Monday that any attempt for Ewers to profit off his NIL would be in violation of Texas’ recent legislation regarding Name Image and Likeness.
Ewers and his family are facing an imminent decision of whether to play his senior year without the deals or enroll at Ohio State a year early and cash in on endorsements. Ewers is expected to decide this week.
“I don’t really know, I don’t have a final decision made quite yet,” Ewers said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I’m leaning toward leaving and going up to Ohio, just so I don’t have to deal with [University Interscholastic League] stuff and can get comfortable with Ohio and Columbus and start to learn.”
‘We don’t want Quinn to be a martyr’
Ewers and his parents, Curtis and Kristen, made it clear that that their preference would be that Quinn stays in high school and is allowed to sign the deals. But that option doesn’t appear available, as UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said in a phone interview that the decision is essentially out of the UIL’s control.
“The legislation that passed in Texas prohibits these types of agreements,” Harrison told Yahoo Sports. “Given that those types of agreements are prohibited by state law, we could not be open to it.”
Ewers is in a position academically where he could take one core English class online, graduate from high school early, and enroll and be eligible at Ohio State for the 2021 season. The family expects that course to be completed in time for him to take part in preseason camp, which begins Aug. 3. The Buckeyes’ quarterback situation is wide open heading into the season, as none of the three scholarship QBs have thrown a college pass.
“I don’t think we’re here to fight them or question the UIL, but we hold a different opinion, and we think our opinion is valid,” Curtis Ewers told Yahoo Sports. “We didn’t ask for this situation, but it’s upon us. It’s our reality. We don’t want Quinn to be a martyr here for everyone who comes behind him. But right now, we are guided by what’s the best for Quinn.”
The UIL informed a lawyer for the Ewers family on Monday in a “staff opinion” that Ewers essentially could not sign autographs or profit off his name, image and likeness until his athletic competitions were completed in high school. The email referenced Section J of the Texas NIL bill, which was an amendment added more than a month after the bill was introduced and states: “no individual, corporate entity or other organization may: enter into any arrangement with a prospective student athlete relating to the prospective student athlete’s name, image, or likeness prior to their enrollment in an institution of higher education.”
According to the UIL, that state law left no wiggle room. Harrison said the UIL spent a considerable amount of time researching before issuing the staff opinion. “We don’t make state law,” Harrison said.
Curtis Ewers told Yahoo Sports: “We provided the UIL with quite a bit of information relative to all of our deals, the specifics of the deals, which were more important to us, which were less. We felt like based on our requests they could look at the deals and at least pick one or two they could give and one or two they could take.”
Early start at Ohio State vs. shot at Texas state title
Ewers faces a decision of whether to give up the lore of a senior year of Texas high school football versus heading to college and cashing in. He plays at a perennial power, as Southlake Carroll reached the state finals last season and plays home games in a stadium with more than 12,000 seats that cost more than $15 million to build.
Curtis Ewers works in the oil and gas business and Quinn’s mother, Kristen, is a fourth-grade teacher in the Southlake school system. “We don’t need the money,” Quinn Ewers said. “It’s just the principle of it.”
Ewers’ decision will be closely monitored in Texas, a bastion where capitalism is valued and high school football is as much part of the state’s culture as cowboy boots and brisket. Ewers, who is 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, is considered by some observers the most decorated high school quarterback prospect in Texas since Vince Young. In Ewers’ two varsity seasons at Southlake Carroll, he has thrown for 73 touchdowns and 6,445 yards, statistics diminished by playing six fewer games as a junior after surgery on a core muscle injury.
The Ewers family has indicated an appreciation of Ohio State coach Ryan Day’s handling of the situation, as Day’s perspective has been more grounded in that of being a parent than a coach. The family has been in conversation with Ohio State about this potentially happening for several weeks.
Quinn Ewers laid out his decision this way. “If I enroll at Ohio State, obviously I’d be able to make money off the deals, and I feel like it’d be a big advantage of learning the playbook and getting comfortable with the campus and all my teammates. But if I stay and don’t get paid, I may be able to win a state title.”
Ewers already planned on enrolling in Ohio State in January, which likely would have eliminated him from some of the typical trappings of a senior year of high school like prom and graduation. Quinn Ewers mentioned position dinners with his buddies and Friday team dinners as the types of camaraderie moments he’d miss. The family adores Texas high school football and all it represents.
“There’s a lot of fun in that and the hometown feel and vibe and all those pieces,” Kristen Ewers said. “I definitely don’t want to miss that season with him. It’s a lot to give up as a family. At the same time. I trust my son. He has a very good head on his shoulders. He’s mature.”
Curtis Ewers pointed out that the equity in the Holy Kombucha deal is a key factor. The product resonates with the family, as Kristen Ewers points out she’s a colon cancer survivor and the family strongly believes in “gut health” and a healthy lifestyle. The opportunity for equity transcends a cash payout.
“There’s no better business class at Carroll High School that he could take right now,” Curtis Ewers said. “It’s important for all the reasons you can imagine. [Equity] is how you build wealth, not just quick cash.”
How Ewers case could influence NIL issue in high schools
Ewers’ upcoming decision highlights a potential unintended consequence of the new NIL rules in college football. Could more high-profile players in Texas and beyond skip out early to college to cash in on NIL?
There’s ambiguity in the high school ranks. The National Federation of State High School Associations has noted that profiting off NIL in relation to their teams is prohibited: “Current high school student-athletes CANNOT earn money as a result of their connection to their high school team.”
But in California, for example, there has long been a California Interscholastic Federation rule that allows a “student to participate in a commercial endorsement provided there is no school team or school affiliation.” But a CIF official cautioned to Yahoo Sports that student athletes consult the national governing body of the high school sport they’re in along with NCAA rules to be sure that their commercial activity doesn’t categorize them as a professional and jeopardize their eligibility.
“We’re still sorting our way through all of this,” Harrison said. “High school associations are in the same place we are. We’ll still sorting through this.”
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