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ACC players and coaches discuss the new landscape of name, image and likeness

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has signed an endorsement deal with chicken franchise Bojangles. (Nell Redmond/AP)
3 min

CHARLOTTE — With the name, image and likeness discussion taking center stage at ACC football media days, no player faced more questions about the uncharted frontier than Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who became one of the more high-profile college athletes to sign an endorsement deal when the new rules went into effect July 1.

The sophomore five-star recruit partnered with Bojangles to share content on social media, including announcing his first brand affiliation on Twitter on Wednesday, and make appearances on behalf of the fried chicken franchise.

Uiagalelei, a native of California, is taking over for No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence as the Tigers are seeking to win a seventh consecutive ACC championship and make a run at a third national championship during the College Football Playoff era.

“Bojangles is definitely a recent discovery,” Uiagalelei said Thursday afternoon. “In California, we don’t have Bojangles. I remember one thing coming down here to the South, one thing I definitely learned is Jesus is number one here, then it goes football, and then it goes down to people love Bojangles down here.”

But only one day before Uiagalelei issued his corporate endorsement, Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney felt compelled at the school’s media day to clarify remarks he made years ago when asked for his perspective on college athletes unionizing.

He did more of the same Thursday while affirming his opposition to intercollegiate sports becoming more in line with the professional model.

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“I’ve never been apprehensive about NIL,” Swinney said. “That’s not the story. People hear what they want to hear, and they write what they want to write, and people believe what they are going to believe. My comments were ‘I’m against the professionalization of college athletics.’ Always have been, always will be.”

Swinney’s comments from 2014, in which he said he would “go and do something else” if college athletes were granted the right to financial compensation via endorsement deals, went viral earlier in the summer when it became clear NIL would be part of the college landscape.

“NIL is going to be for some, not for everybody,” Swinney said. “But we can’t facilitate. We can educate. We can navigate. We can equip. We’ve got an entire educational library. July 1 didn’t just get here and go, ‘Okay, you figure this out.’ This is something we’ve been prepared for for a long time and built for.”

Uiagalelei isn’t the only ACC quarterback to sign an endorsement deal. North Carolina’s Sam Howell also is a spokesperson for Bojangles after the junior threw for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns last season with seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 68.1.

As a freshman, Howell passed for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns on the way to being selected ACC rookie of the year.

Howell has directed the Tar Heels, who open the season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 3 in prime time at Lane Stadium, to a 15-10 record over two seasons under Coach Mack Brown, a dramatic turnaround from 2017 and 2018 when North Carolina went 5-18 under Larry Fedora.

“I’m looking for more opportunities,” Howell said of NIL. “Things where I can involve my teammates, give them some opportunities as well. I think there’s a good place for it. I just want to make sure as a team we keep the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning football games.”

Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, a sixth-year senior transfer from Houston, also has agreed to endorsement deals, most notably co-ownership of Dreamfield, an NIL platform, along with Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton, a redshirt senior who transferred from Central Florida.

Navigating NIL guidelines is one of many tasks ACC programs are dealing with amid major changes in the conference and to college football in general. The ACC, for instance, is allowing players who transfer within the conference to play immediately.

Typically a transfer must sit out one season, per NCAA rules.

This season, the ACC also will operate without the regular college football scholarship cap of 85 after 2020 did not count against a player’s eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What I hope doesn’t happen is that because we’ve had some success here, we’ve seen these great stories of student-athletes being able to use, rightly so, just like students, their name, image and likeness, that we lose the sense of urgency,” said ACC first-year commissioner Jim Phillips, who called for a national standard regarding NIL. “We need federal help. I think that we’ll get it, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

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