Channeling Your Athletic Drive Post College Through an NIL Deal

December 14, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Derek Kent
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Until recently, college athletes could not receive any financial compensation for what they had achieved athletically. 

You might remember the controversy surrounding Reggie Bush, who allegedly received a monthly stipend while playing at USC, and QB Johnny Manziel, who sold autographed pictures of himself under the table while at Texas A&M.

Things have changed in the last few years, with many college athletes demanding compensation for the profit they earned for their schools. Recently, the NCAA’s board of directors officially ended the rule, and college athletes were allowed to sell the rights to their names, images, and likeness (NIL).

Enter Derek Kent, who owns CrossFit Verus in Columbia, Missouri, with his wife, Kelli. Kent discovered CrossFit when he was 40 and quickly fell in love with it. But the 43-year-old’s passion for competition and fitness began early on.

  • Kent: “I was a college football player at a Division II school, Truman State University in Missouri. I was a walk-on player who got strong and fast by working out like crazy. I went from a walk-on to a three-time all-conference full-ride scholarship.”

Kent finished playing football 20 years ago, and he found that he didn’t know what to do with himself once his career was over.

“I didn’t know how to transition that competitive drive and all that strength and conditioning I gained while playing football,” he remembers. “At first, I got into long-distance running marathons, but I lost all my muscle.”

And then someone exposed Kent to CrossFit.

  • It is 20 years later, and I’m a rejuvenated athlete. I made the Quarterfinals in my second Open and almost made it [to] my first Open. I’m addicted to it.”

Kent is still an avid college football fan, and a young runningback named Cody Schrader caught his eye when Schrader was playing at Truman State, Kent’s alma mater.

  • Kent: “He was an all-American there. Then, he left the scholarship at Truman State to walk on at Mizzou. He has climbed the depth chart there and is one of the best college RBs in the country.”

The two met at a Special Olympics fundraiser and connected immediately. They had the Truman State college football connection, and Kent hoped to work together. Kent saw the talent and character in Schrader and wanted to sign a NIL deal with him so he could represent some of Kent’s business ventures.

Besides his CrossFit affiliate, Schrader signed on with Kent to represent two of his franchises, a Smoothie King and a Jersey Mike’s. It was Schrader’s first NIL deal, a big thing for a collegiate athlete.

But the most important collaboration was CrossFit.

Kent shared his story with Schrader, telling him how he felt 20 years after football, trying to find something that made him feel like an athlete.

  • “I just felt like a guy working out to stay in shape. And it took me finding CrossFit to feel like I’m an athlete again.”

Kent didn’t want college athletes to go through the same heartache he had post-school.

  • “I want to start introducing CrossFit to outgoing seniors and athletes on campus. So they can understand that this is a landing pad for strength, conditioning, and mindset. And everything they had as an athlete in college, they can transition into CrossFit.”

Schrader loved the message.

It was the first time he had been introduced to CrossFit. Schrader had always done traditional football training, spending his time in the weight room and running football-specific drills.

  • Schrader: “When Derek and I started talking, he was explaining what CrossFit was, and there were a lot of similarities with power cleaning, bikes, rowing, etc. I started telling my trainer back at home about it, and we started incorporating some of it. I’d go up to Derek’s gym, and I would do some different simple movements. I’m slowly starting to learn more and more about CrossFit.”

One of the key things that Kent and Schrader collaborate on is getting the message out about CrossFit and fitness to the younger crowd.

Photo Credit: Derek Kent 

Kent describes how Schrader has been helping spread the message.

  • Kent: “At the gym, we’re in the first year of a teen program. We have a legitimate middle school class, and now there is a nearby high school that we work with that has made CrossFit a club sport.”
  • “I coach middle school football, and we have had them in to hear Cody speak. And this year, we started a CrossFit summer program where we had 30 middle schoolers to train and learn from Cody. And even though he’s never done CrossFit, all of the CrossFit movements are things that he does for football, [like] box work, conditioning, and more. Most all of the CrossFit stuff applies to football.”

Schrader enjoys being an ambassador, especially to kids.

  • Schrader: “I loved telling them my story. I would explain what I thought it took to be successful and what I have done in my journey. I wanted to shed light on putting in the work. I gave them some nutrition tips, the importance of sleep, and this stuff that I wish I had been told when I was a younger athlete.”

Kent is so proud to be a part of Schrader’s journey, the marriage between an NIL deal, and the ability to show student athletes there is more available for them after they graduate.

  • “I believed in him. I know the mindset and heart it takes to be a walk-on athlete, prove yourself, and then have that chip on your shoulder all the time.”

Schrader might not have a chip on his shoulder much longer

  • He was named the 14th winner of the Burlsworth Trophy this year, an award given to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. Past winners include current NFL standouts, Baker Mayfield and Hunter Renfrow.
  • He also was the first SEC player and 10th player in FBS history with 200-plus rushing yards and 100-plus receiving yards in the same game this year and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which is given yearly to the best collegiate RB.

Having Schrader in his corner impacting young athletes, Kent knows he will be able to spread the message of CrossFit after college. It has been an identity for so many college athletes for so long; when all of it is gone for whatever reason, there is a profound void.

Kent wants to turn his CrossFit into an authentic post-school athletic experience.

  • “College athletes use physical exercise to build camaraderie, and then one day it’s gone,” Kent says. “What we are trying to build with our CrossFit gym is the concept of a club sport; I want our members and our people to feel like they’re in a club or on a team. Like a CrossFit Country Club, with a social aspect. I want the sport to be CrossFit.”

With his affiliate concentrating on this vibe, Kent hopes transitioning from college athlete to athletic adult is smooth and easy.

  • Kent: “For most collegiate athletes, there is a time when all that ends; you’re not a competitive runner anymore, you’re not a football or basketball player. Slowpitch softball doesn’t check the box, old man’s basketball doesn’t check the box, and league bowling or golfing doesn’t check the box. And so, all of a sudden, one day, you don’t have that. You have to go to the YMCA and work out alone.”

“But CrossFit is the first thing in 20 years that I found where I’ve got a goal, I’ve got a program, I’ve got people at the gym that are working out with me that are my teammates. It’s been life-changing.”

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