Maui athletes, coaches see benefits in NIL change

University of Hawaii senior shortstop Nawai Kaupe, a graduate of Maui High School, has signed an endorsement deal with ib808apparel, an online clothing company run by Kenny Adachi of Molokai. UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS photo

Opportunity recently dropped into Nawai Kaupe’s lap.

The Maui High School graduate and senior shortstop for the University of Hawaii softball team was contacted by Kenny Adachi of Molokai to represent his ib808apparel clothing line in mid-June.

She had to turn down the chance because it was against NCAA eligibility rules at the time. Two weeks later, with pressure building after several states passed laws allowing college student-athletes to earn money on their name, image and likeness, the NCAA changed its rule on July 1.

“For sure, there’s a big opportunity for many Hawaii kids,” Kaupe said Tuesday. “As of right now, I’m with ib808apparel.com. … I just represent their brand and their goals and values of not only within their apparel, but within their Ohana as well. Just sharing their love and passion for the clothing line.”

Kaupe pointed to former Fresno State and California-Berkeley standout Kamalani Dung, who landed a similar opportunity after finishing her college career in 2019.

Lahainaluna graduate Joshua Tihada says UNLV has given its student-athletes “a good layout” to navigate the new NIL rules. UNLV photo

“There’s a lot of small businesses now that are trying to start up and we’re trying to support locals, so it’s a great way to support local, yeah, for athletes in that way,” Kaupe said. “For example, Kamalani Dung represents Mana Athletics — she models for their apparel.”

It appears that the recent change in the NIL rules heavily favors the top individuals in the Power Five conferences. A quarterback at Alabama who has never started a game already has more than $1 million in endorsements lined up, according to coach Nick Saban.

Coaches and athletes at lower-tier schools from Maui say the ruling will help them as well.

Kaupe has lived the Power Five life, too, having started her college career at Washington — she played in two Women’s College World Series for the Huskies before transferring to UH.

The entire NIL process is in its infancy and still being figured out by coaches, administrators, student-athletes and athletic departments across the board.

Chandler Cowell (right), a King Kekaulike graduate who is a senior volleyball player at Saint Mary’s, says she is “really excited just to be able to help out brands that I resonate with and put their message forward along with my platform and eventually furthering my athletic career and be able to help people around me.” SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE photo

“That’s definitely a big part of the college scene now,” said Lahainaluna High School graduate Joshua Tihada, who is entering his second year as a running back for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas football team. “We’ve had definitely a lot of team meetings about that here. We had our (athletic director) come in, she spoke to us about it. We have a whole program about it, about the NIL.

“It’s definitely a huge process. It’s a huge topic that everyone’s talking about it. They all want to make that difference and bounce off that name, image and likeness. They have a good layout for us, program for us here at UNLV. So, yeah, it’s a huge opportunity to make money, to get your name out there.”

Tihada plans to talk about his possible opportunities with his parents before making any decisions. He is currently a walk-on with an eye on earning a scholarship.

“Right now I just want to concentrate on football, but the biggest thing over everything is to get my education,” Tihada said. “That’s my sole purpose, to go to school — I’m here for football, too — I want to get my degree and graduate and get a good job.”

UNLV defensive line coach Chad Kauhaahaa, a Baldwin graduate and former head coach who has been a college assistant coach for nearly 20 years at eight different schools, says UNLV is very interactive on the NIL situation.

“We’re jumping on board with it, we just hired a company,” Kauhaahaa said. “Even before this came out we had already hired a person to start educating our players. During COVID we had Wednesday Zoom meetings just to get the kids aware of what this is all about.

“We hired that company to get things going for the kids. At the end of the day it’s going to help with recruiting, too.”

Kauhaahaa pointed to Mililani graduate Dillon Gabriel, who is a standout quarterback at Central Florida.

“With the way things are going, kids are already capitalizing on the whole situation,” Kauhaahaa said. “It just got cleared and you start with Dillon Gabriel, he’s already got his own (clothing) brand, his own line.”

Kauhaahaa has worked at USC, Oregon State, Utah and Wisconsin, and he said that the new rule favors the Power Five schools.

“Absolutely it does, it goes with the TV exposure,” Kau­haahaa said. “When you’re playing on ABC, ESPN, NBC, all the big channels every Saturday, that’ll help those Power Five schools market their guys, their players, their superstars. At the end of the day, I’ve lived in L.A. and there’s so many avenues, resources that these guys have.

“I tell you what, to me it can be an advantage here in Vegas, too. … I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting to see how this thing plays out. It’s going to be crazy.”

King Kekaulike graduate Chandler Cowell is a senior volleyball player — indoor and beach — at Saint Mary’s. She has already played four seasons for the Gaels, but is set to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications with plans to earn a master’s while using her final year of eligibility that was granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been working all summer, so I haven’t been able to reach out, but I have a template ready to start sending out to different types of either clothing lines or other types of sports stuff in general,” Cowell said. “I’m really excited just to be able to help out brands that I resonate with and put their message forward along with my platform and eventually furthering my athletic career and be able to help people around me.”

Jimmy Morimoto, who followed Kauhaahaa as Baldwin head football coach, is now the assistant athletic director of football operations at Montana, a Football Championship Subdivision power located in Missoula.

Montana is more hands-off with the NIL opportunities for student-athletes.

“It’s up to each individual player,” Morimoto said. “They can market themselves and their name, image and likeness and make some money. All we’ve done is give those players information about the dos, the don’ts, making sure that they don’t do it the wrong way and get in trouble.”

The rabid fan base of the school’s teams will generate opportunities at Montana, Morimoto believes. The school has about 8,000 undergraduates and Missoula has a population of about 73,000, but the campus features a 26,500-seat football stadium to accommodate the strong following of the Grizzlies.

“For sure, our community in Montana is very close to the Griz and they are always looking for guys, whether it’s for summer jobs or now with the name, image and likeness, they can actually get paid for that,” Morimoto said. “It’ll be huge in our community for sure.”

Donan Cruz, a Baldwin graduate who is the new men’s volleyball head coach at Ball State, said he is taking an approach that can help build his team at the same time. Cruz’s first suggestion to his players will be to get paid for being volleyball youth camp counselors, a position players have done for many years but without pay because of the NCAA rules.

“I just got back from the national training center for volleyball — we were there for our youth national team,” Cruz said. “So, a lot of the guys, men and women that work those programs, are (NCAA) Division I coaches, so the conversation definitely came up a few times.

“I cannot speak to what this NIL thing will be with the different landscapes at different campuses — I think there is a different application to each institution and the level and even to further the sport.”

Cruz said it can mix in with academics as well.

“I really think it can be kind of an education for our student-athletes, that’s a big one,” Cruz said. “Our institution helps out student-athletes with what we call ‘Ball U.’ It’s just a platform that helps educate our student-athletes on how to navigate these opportunities for them to make money off their name, image and likeness. Because it’s such a new thing I think the important thing is to help student-athletes navigate this process.

“What I’ve seen right off the bat through social media and pages I follow is the immediate opportunity for student-athletes to run camps using their name. There’s some sports that aren’t football and basketball, I think there’s some student-athletes that are going to find some huge opportunity in sharing their knowledge and connecting with kids and doing that in a context as something they can profit from.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias @mauinews.com


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