The first high school football player to get a NIL is from a place called Pittsburgh, minus the “h,” and walking around…less pretentiousness.
Jaden Rashada, the No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2023, has a precise arm, fast feet, long legs, a high IQ and a heart that is two sizes too generous. The football recruitment application named AIR (Recruiting Athletes) who signed him to a four-figure contract last month couldn’t have picked a tougher high schooler, unless you didn’t like an 18-year-old who spends Christmas feeding the homeless.
“Honestly, my goal is to be someone who will be remembered forever,” Rashada says. “I want to change people’s lives. »
The age of name and image and likeness is upon us, and for those who thought it would corrupt both college and high school athletes, the first feedback is: not so fast.
AIR founder and CEO, Australian-born former SMU punter James Sackville, says he dove headfirst into the prep ranks “because, I think, everyone was a little scared , to be honest with you, and I think we just don’t care. We’re like, ‘Hey, we’re going to be first to act in everything we do.’ And it was legal. It wasn’t about legality.”
To be exact, the only states currently allowing all of their high school athletes to be compensated for NIL are New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Nebraska, and Rashada’s home state of California. Knowing next to nothing about Pittsburg — a quaint, blue-collar town 40 miles east of San Francisco — Sackville at least had the wherewithal to scroll through a list of top-rated California quarterbacks, a guaranteed home. Within milliseconds, he became captivated by Rashada’s video, Statistics, loops and Twitter to feed.
“I felt like he was really marketable, and the fact that he’s a four-star quarterback really helps,” Sackville said. “And then when you actually talk to the kid on the phone…”
Rashada’s voice is deep, his opinions are nuanced, his journey has been meandering, and he asked Sackville all the right questions. He wanted to learn more about AIR, and Sackville explained that it was part LinkedIn, part dating app. In other words, it was a free social media platform where players could post a virtual resume, complete with stats and videos, and have it vetted or endorsed, LinkedIn-style, by their high school coach or personal trainer. College coaches would then be free to comment in real time or swipe right (as in, I like you) or swipe left (as in, I’m not attracted), kind of like a dating app.
“When I was in college, I looked at successful people who had gone to SMU, and I was fascinated by Whitney Herd,” Sackville says. “By the way she built Bumble [a female-centric dating app] and helped develop Tinder before that. I tried to take a lot of inspiration from her. The social psychology of dating and recruiting was, I guess, kind of how we got there.
James Sackville, who spent four years with SMU, compares his AIR app to a combination of LinkedIn dating apps.
Rashada listened intently to Sackville’s pitch…and slid to the right. He liked that the app cost no, that you never know how poor a footballer’s family is, that it was a legitimate way for underrated and underexposed players to live out their dreams. And it particularly affected the house because… it was him.
His father, Harlen, had previously played at Arizona State in the early 1990s with Pat Tillman and Jake Plummer. But, as a father raising four children in Pittsburgh, he had had sporadic income. “We live in California, it’s expensive here,” Harlen says. “We don’t come from a lot. There are no silver spoons in our mouths. I owned a business; I walked out of my business. When I got out of it, things were tough, you had to grind, man. Things were tight. All has not been perfect for Jaden.”
Jaden’s father, Harlen Rashada, played defensive back at Arizona State in the 1990s alongside Pat Tillman.
Even when Harlen’s bank account was nearly empty, he still drove Jaden to college football camps all over the west – until one day he couldn’t. With no choice but to work longer shifts in the summer of 2019, Harlen had to get a buddy to haul 9and-future grader Jaden one hour on Interstate-680 to a camp in San Jose State.
“I gave Jaden what I had in cash to pay him,” Harlen says. “With all the problems, the things that we were going through as a family at that time, I couldn’t do it, but he was still going to leave. Just a kid with his soccer ball.
Jaden outplayed the high school kids that day – “They had no idea I was an 8and grader,” Jaden says — and even got a “wow” from San Jose State QB coach Ryan Gunderson (now at UCLA) when he lasered a 15-yard return route from the distant hash. Almost at that time, San Jose State gave him his first offer D1.
“Indescribable,” Jaden says of the offer. “A lot of weight on my shoulders.”
Still shaking an hour later, Jaden FaceTimed Harlen told her, “Daaaaad, San Jose State gave me away!” At that point, Harlen said, “What?” Bay Bridge.
“You thought we won the lottery or something,” Harlen says. “We were all like, ‘Yeaaaah.’ I was so proud of him, so happy for him.
So the AIR app, with its irreverent content creator mistergo30 and its nearly 100,000 users in just seven and a half months, became Jaden’s way of helping other high school players enter the same type of lottery. His new NIL job is to promote the AIR application with tweet Where re-tweets or answer questions from other high school players about the recruiting process.
” What I liked [about the NIL], it was an opportunity to be the first and also to launch the application,” explains Jaden. “Maybe this app can help a kid who’s really neglected connect with the right coach, you know? And, like I said, I liked being the start of something, letting people know [an NIL] it’s okay, you know? Starting it was a big thing for me, the first to do it. This is something that will never go away.”
Asked by other kids about college recruiting, his response is, “It’s a business.” a quarterback in the class of 23, his answer is, “I’m a little below Manning Arch… He is first. I’m like 3 or 4, over there.” Asked who offered it, his answer is Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida of the SEC, Oklahoma (maybe about to be in the SEC), UCLA, cal, Oregon, Washington, Penn State and his father’s school Arizona State— not to mention a dozen others.
When asked when he will choose a school, his least favorite question, the answer is usually: “Before high school.” But to his favorite question, what do you do in your free time? on December 2020 selling Christmas trees.
“Dude, he’d come home, I’m not kidding, dude, he’d have pine needles in his hair, [tree] sap all over him,” Harlen says. “We’d be like, ‘Man, what are you doing? So he tells me he works for this guy who sold Christmas trees. I’m like, okay. So he starts working. I drop it off at work, pick it up, and then I’m home one day, and there’s a ding-dong at the front door.”
It was a delivery man with gift baskets, 30 of them. With the money from his Christmas tree, Jaden’s plan was to fill each basket with a Bible, Gatorades, food, snacks, gloves, and a blanket. His idea, entirely. Eventually, Jaden, his mother Destiny, his younger sister Heiress and Harlen loaded the baskets into a car. He then drove all over Pittsburgh, hand-delivering them to the homeless on Christmas Day.
The gods don’t plan mine, all glory to him! Merry Christmas! 🤞🏾🤞🏾 pic.twitter.com/8I2rrAItBi
— Jaden Rashada 5️⃣ (@jadenrashada) December 25, 2021
“I don’t know where his motivation comes from,” says Harlen, “but, honestly, this Christmas was probably the best one I’ve had because of the way some people reacted. We would stop and people said, ‘Thank you!’ People were just hungry on the street. I remember a guy who was sleeping behind a 7-Eleven. We were going to give him a basket, and he was like, “Thanks, man!”
“That giving mentality touched us all that year, and [Jaden] ran this thing. I have no idea where it comes from. But that’s the kind of kid he is. Literally. That’s the kind of heart he has.
It was a year before AIR NIL, and now Jaden – instead of grinding a Christmas tree – is about to make some money with a second NIL, a deal with Safeway Grocery Stores where his earnings will go to new to the homeless or the greater Pittsburgh community.
Jaden, here with his mother, Destiny Rashada, hand-delivered gift baskets to the homeless on Christmas Day.
“I kind of did that [NIL] so maybe other companies can pick me up to give back to my community,” says Jaden. “Whether with AIR or whoever. Anyone who wants to help me help my community, I’m open.
“I mean, with me, I lift weights, I throw, I get text messages from college coaches, I try to get better every day. I don’t really have time to work out or have any the money in my pocket. So [NIL] really is like a blessing, and I can handle it… I was always taught to act like I was 10 years older than me.”
Which could explain the high school student’s new Twitter bio: GOD FIRST, 2023 4-Star Quarterback, Pittsburg High School, 6-4, 185, UA All-American, Business Inquiries: @jadenrashada