The prep QB phenom and a million-dollar NIL query

High college freshman Julian Lewis has already received a Georgia state title as a beginning quarterback, has Ohio State, USC and Georgia amongst his 35 scholarship presents and has gone viral by wowing NFL stars along with his expertise.

The 15-year-old profiles because the precocious prodigy in practically each manner, even carrying the memorable nickname “JuJu.” Lewis has the identical highschool soccer coach as Trevor Lawrence and the identical coach who oversaw Lawrence and Justin Fields of their early life in Georgia. None are holding again on what’s doable for Lewis.

“I’ve had the privilege of coaching Trevor Lawrence,” mentioned Carrollton High School coach Joey King. “He’s in the same category as Trevor. The skill set and arm talent he has are definitely advanced for his age.”

Adds famous Atlanta-area coach Ron Veal: “He’s right there with [Fields and Lawrence]. As far as ability-wise, he’s right on par with them.”

But after throwing 48 landing passes as a freshman and amassing 113,000 Instagram followers, Lewis is a new-age recruit with an age-old highschool downside — he cannot generate income off his recognition.

While greater than half of the states within the nation have legalized Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) offers in some kind for highschool athletes, the state of Georgia sits at a compelling crossroads. It is residence to one of many richest recruiting bases within the nation, the back-to-back nationwide champions of faculty soccer and a generational prospect in Lewis, who may command nicely over 1,000,000 {dollars} on the open market over the following three seasons.

Georgia can be the setting of maybe essentially the most notable highschool cautionary story within the NIL period, as a defensive lineman named T.A. Cunningham left the state to hunt out NIL cash in California final 12 months and ended up ensnared in a thicket of damaged guarantees and eligibility points that required a court docket combat to get resolved.

That leaves Georgia as a captivating check of determining a option to navigate amateurism’s new realities, partially to be sure you retain prime expertise. This all occurs as Lewis’ father, T.C., watches his son’s video games offered for native tv and sponsors line up for award ceremonies honoring him.

“It’s all part of the football revenue-generating machine,” T.C. Lewis advised ESPN. “The entire football machine is making money, not the players. It’s real.”

The actuality for Lewis is he’ll be the face of the case for NIL within the state of Georgia. He mentioned he does not give it some thought a lot, but when NIL have been made authorized he’d discover methods to obtain offers that may additionally profit his teammates. He mentioned the conversations principally occur along with his dad, however often along with his pals.

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He calls the shortage of the power to revenue off his personal NIL “definitely a little saddening,” and sums up the truth succinctly: “It’s not fair, to be honest.”

For now, the Lewis household appears unlikely to comply with Cunningham’s path and flee Georgia for greener pastures. T.C. Lewis mentioned his son’s long-term progress is the precedence, which is why they don’t have any plans to look out of state for a distinct highschool. They aren’t naïve to the alternatives, however are completely satisfied to maintain creating.

“As the season evolved and with the success that Julian had and where he and Coach King are and how he uses him, Julian and I have had extended discussions, and we’re willing to sacrifice short-term money for long-term development,” T.C. Lewis mentioned. “At this point in time, we wouldn’t leave Georgia. We’re used to what we’re leaving on the table.”

Just how excessive that quantity could be is ambiguous, however it will solely escalate if Lewis continues on his present trajectory. The prime QB recruit within the Class of 2023, California native Malachi Nelson, was slated to signal near 1,000,000 {dollars} in NIL offers by the point he enrolled at USC. T.C. Lewis additionally mentions California prep basketball stars like Bronny James — who has been in a position to ink offers with Nike and Beats by Dre — and Mikey Williams, who signed a multiyear take care of Puma.

T.C. Lewis is a tech entrepreneur, so when Julian had the concept to start out an organization for slide sandals, they launched it when he was in seventh grade. They shortly shut it down, nonetheless, out of concern of risking eligibility. Lewis and his household are being adopted round for a docuseries, together with throughout his state-title-winning season. But they cannot revenue off that, both. (Not even with funds deferred to after he is accomplished as an novice.)

“At the end of the day, if your popularity comes from football, you can’t use that popularity to make money,” T.C. Lewis mentioned. “There’s huge opportunities for Julian coming up. We have great relationships here locally and nationally. We’ve turned down so much already.”

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Attorney Donald Woodard is advising the Lewis household, having grow to be conversant in NIL by means of his work for USA Track and Field. He’d met T.C. Lewis years earlier than in connection to considered one of Lewis’ enterprise initiatives, and has been advising the household on what they’ll and may’t do within the NIL house for practically two years.

Woodard sees the identical arguments that for years have been made on the NCAA degree for athletes getting some sort of compensation merely trickling all the way down to the high-school degree. He sees the same “ecosystem” producing cash in highschool that existed in faculty.

T.C. Lewis estimates “on the low end,” his son may make $500,000 whereas in highschool. He estimates the high-end at $1.5 million and identified they just lately turned down a $60,000 alternative.

“We’re hopeful that Georgia will come on board soon,” Woodard mentioned. “Not just for Julian, but for all athletes in Georgia. The market will dictate which athletes are deserving.”

Georgia High School Association govt director Robin Hines declined touch upon Lewis, saying they do not talk about particular person athletes. He did say the GHSA are within the strategy of researching what different states are doing and consulting with their very own attorneys to seek out the easiest way ahead for one thing in Georgia.

(Officials on the University of Georgia did not return calls in search of remark, nevertheless it stands to cause they’d need the very best native highschool expertise staying in-state.)

While the GHSA is “way at the beginning” of the method, Hines mentioned there is a “possibility” a proposal could possibly be moved ahead in April. But first, they want to determine an strategy that is smart, as he acknowledges there’s “only a small percentage of athletes” who would profit.

He did say the prospect of shedding prime athletes like Cunningham to states with NIL is not looming over the decision-making.

“We certainly don’t want to be left behind, but we also want to do what’s in the best interest of our student athletes while maintaining our credibility as an amateur association,” Hines advised ESPN in a telephone interview. “That’s a tightrope to walk.”

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Meanwhile, Julian Lewis will proceed strolling the tightrope of standard teenager and teenage star. After his Christmas cash began to expire final month, he advised his father that he wished to get a job for spending money. T.C. Lewis mentioned he did not suppose that was a good suggestion.

His dad advised him he does not have time to carry a job and jokes he pays him to coach. T.C. Lewis does admit that the payments are actual, from coaches to touring the nation for coaching and occasions.

In latest weeks, Lewis has gone to each USC and LSU. He has tripped to Alabama a number of instances to see video games due to its proximity to residence. It’s too early to mission any favorites, however T.C. Lewis mentioned he has already raised his son to not be a fan of any crew. He does not need the emotion of fandom getting in the way in which of enterprise.

“We keep the main thing the main thing,” he mentioned. “NIL is going to play a huge part, but it’s not going to be the deciding factor. At the end of the day, if some school says we’re going to give you $5 million, if you can’t develop him or get him to where he wants to go, it doesn’t matter.”

The uptick in hype and a spotlight hasn’t actually fazed Julian Lewis. There are movies of him at age 9 with Justin Fields snapping him the balls for drills. Lewis did not know him as a prime prospect, only a big-brother determine he educated with. That’s why the steps towards stardom — highschool phenom, faculty prospect, eventual faculty starter and past — really feel attainable for Lewis.

The Lewis’ are hopeful the GHSA passes some sort of rule that can permit him to revenue off his abilities, however they have not accomplished any direct lobbying. For now, Julian Lewis is in search of a typical teen expertise, realizing that may be fleeting.

“Of course, I like being noticed and called out on certain things,” he mentioned of his burgeoning fame. “But at some points, I want to walk around and be normal. We’re at the point where there’s no time to be normal. No one thinks of me as normal. I’m still 15. I want to be a kid. I want to go out and have fun and be chill.”