Former UF Recruit Sues in ‘NIL’ Dispute

TALLAHASSEE — Saying his experience is “emblematic of the abuses running rampant in the world of big-time college football,” a former high-school star quarterback on Tuesday filed a lawsuit accusing University of Florida football coach Billy Napier, a top Gators booster and others of wrongdoing related to a $13.85 million endorsement deal gone sour.

The federal lawsuit filed by Jaden Rashada centers on a seismic shift in college sports in recent years that has allowed athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses in what are commonly known as NIL agreements.

Rashada, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Calif., was ranked seventh nationally in the 2023 class of college-bound quarterbacks. He was recruited by several elite football programs before settling on the University of Miami — and a $9.5 million NIL deal — in the summer of 2022, according to the lawsuit.

Rashada months later flipped to the University of Florida after being allegedly promised $13.85 million, including a $500,000 “signing bonus,” and a job for his father. The lawsuit, filed in Pensacola, alleges that UF donor Hugh Hathcock, Napier and others fraudulently convinced Rashada to attend the Gainesville school but had no intention of following through on financial pledges.

“Jaden’s miserable experience reveals in stark and dramatic detail what can happen to young student-athletes when wealthy, win-at-all-cost alumni insert themselves into college football’s recruiting process,” Texas-based attorney Rusty Hardin wrote in the 37-page complaint.

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The lawsuit portrayed the university as being “at the helm in pushing the limits of the ever-evolving NIL landscape” in college sports. The school did not address the allegations Tuesday when asked to respond to the lawsuit.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the university are named in the complaint. The UAA will provide for Coach Napier’s personal counsel, and we will direct all questions to those representatives,” University Athletic Association spokesman Steve McClain said in an email.

Rashada’s lawsuit described relationships between university sports programs, alumni, boosters and funding organizations known as “collectives,” through which the student-athlete compensation frequently is funneled.

“These entities, which are new to college athletics, play a crucial role in making NIL opportunities possible and in aiding in recruitment. This is the reality that led to the involvement of defendant Hugh Hathcock,” the lawsuit said.

Hathcock, a Destin resident, contributed millions of dollars to the school’s athletic association in 2022, the lawsuit said. The legal complaint included photos of a suite tower at the university’s football stadium and a basketball complex that bear his name.

“Given such lofty status, Hathcock, along with alumni, boosters, and staff with ties to the UF athletics program, used their collective power, influence, and wealth to fraudulently induce Jaden to commit to UF. They sold Jaden on the idea that by flipping his commitment from Miami to UF, not only could he play for a top offensive program, but he also could … receive significantly more money,” Rashada’s lawyers alleged.

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Defendants in the lawsuit include Napier; Hathcock; Marcus Castro-Walker, UF’s former director of player engagement & NIL; and Velocity Automotive Solutions LLC, a company affiliated with Hathcock.

The lawsuit also alleged that Edward Rojas, CEO of the Gator Collective, LLC, was “deeply involved” throughout the effort to recruit Rashada away from Miami.

The athlete decided to switch schools based on “deceitful promises” that the UF deal would generate millions of dollars more than he was promised at Miami, the legal complaint alleged. It said that after Rashada changed his commitment, the “amount of UF-affiliated NIL money available for Jaden decreased drastically.”

The lawsuit accused the defendants of “fraudulent misrepresentation and inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference with a business relationship or contract and aiding and abetting tortious interference.”

Rashada was allegedly offered $13.85 million over four years to play at UF. The deal was supposed to include $5.5 million — including a $500,000 “signing bonus” — that would be funded through Velocity Automotive, according to the lawsuit. The remainder of the money would come through the Gator Guard, an organization that the lawsuit said was set up by Hathcock.

“All of these promises ultimately proved to be lies,” Rashada’s lawyers wrote. “Sadly, unethical and illegal tactics like this are more and more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college football landscape.”

The lawsuit accused the defendants of trying to “strong-arm” Rashada into a contract “worth a fraction of what they promised.”

For example, Rashada was told that he would receive $1 million on National Signing Day and that “Napier might walk away from Jaden entirely” if he did not sign, according to the lawsuit.

The defendants “agreed to represent their willingness and ability to to exceed” the $9.5 million Miami NIL deal if Rashada switched to UF, the lawsuit said. It said the defendants “lacked both the intention and the ability to fulfill” the pledges.

Rojas boasted about the impact of Rashada flipping from Miami in a text message included in the lawsuit.

“We are going to have to dodge the freaks in Miami[.] I hate Miami. This is going to be fun to watch,” the text said.

According to the lawsuit, the payments Rashada was supposed to receive never materialized.

Rashada withdrew his national letter of intent to play for UF on Jan. 18, 2023, and later enrolled at Arizona State University. Last month, he entered the transfer portal and selected the University of Georgia as his college of choice for the 2024-2025 school year. The lawsuit said neither university was connected to any promises or offers of NIL deals and that Rashada “learned his lesson.”

“Defendants knew that for most college athletes the prospect of NIL earnings is life changing. Defendants exploited this fact for their own personal advantage,” Rashada’s lawyers wrote.


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