Virginia Tech football players work to avoid being distracted by agents

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2010; 10:55 PM

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - Virginia Tech senior cornerback Rashad Carmichael had a feeling he would need an incognito appearance as he walked to the team bus following the ACC championship game earlier this month.

His cellphone received a deluge of random numbers in recent weeks - phone calls Carmichael assumed were from agents trying to pitch their services - so the Clinton native pulled the brim of his championship hat tight against his brow, hoping the collection of random people milling about outside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte wouldn't recognize him.

"They actually do a pretty good job disguising themselves, but you notice people staring at you, looking at you," Carmichael said when asked to re-create the scene earlier this week. "Maybe you look at a girl or something and she'll look and turn away, but an agent won't turn away. They start looking harder. I'm not a guy that wants to be seen, but they'll find you wherever you are, wherever you go. There's guys outside the bus yelling me numbers, telling me to call them. I'm like, 'It's illegal man, that's illegal.' And they don't care, they don't care at all. . . . I know I talked to at least six guys. I just gave out the wrong number a few times."

Carmichael's dilemma is one many of Virginia Tech's NFL draft-eligible players find themselves in during the weeks leading up to Monday's Orange Bowl. While the 12th-ranked Hokies try to focus on their matchup with No. 5 Stanford, some also must deal with NFL agents trying to make their final pitches to sign clients for the following season.

One misstep could affect a player's eligibility or perhaps even bring NCAA sanctions onto his school. And while Virginia Tech's director of athletic compliance, Bert Locklin, says the school's strategy revolves around "begging these kids to wait" until after the bowl game is complete to begin speaking with agents, the reality is the process to becoming a professional football player often moves much faster than that.

College athletes are allowed to talk to agents, but cannot accept benefits from them or enter into any agreements with them.

"The same rules apply to the extent that an agent can't even buy a player a sandwich at Subway," said Darren Heitner, chief executive of Dynasty Athlete Representation and a sports attorney with the law office of Koch, Parafinczuk & Wolf in South Florida. "But it definitely picks up around this time in terms of communication and really that's why you see so many athletes choosing their agent the night of or the day after their bowl game. They have their mind set."

Bowl season isn't the only time players will deal with agents, either directly or indirectly. Though Virginia Tech requires all agents to register with its compliance office if they plan to make contact with a student-athlete during the course of the season, the school has little control over runners - an industry term that generally refers to independent contractors who serve as intermediaries between agents and athletes.

Heitner said runners are usually the first form of contact between an agent and a player, and tend to be in the same demographic and close in age so they can relate more easily.

But face-to-face contact with runners has not been that big of an issue since Virginia Tech arrived in South Florida on Wednesday. The Orange Bowl provides security on every floor of the Hokies' team hotel, and a captain from the Virginia Tech campus police department also accompanied the team on the trip.

That, though, hasn't stopped all contact. Running back Ryan Williams, a third-year sophomore who is considering leaving school early to declare for the draft, said he gets so many inquiries from strangers saying they represent an agent, he's "kind of stopped using my e-mail, and if it's a number that's not saved, and if I don't know you, I'm not picking up. I don't even remember the last time I checked my voicemail."

"It can get very stressful if you pick up the phone every time," said senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who decided to heed the coaching staff's advice and wait until after Monday's game to begin the process of picking an agent with his family. "I just try to stay away from it. I have two cellphones. That helps me. I leave one of them at home. That eliminates half the calls."

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