AVALON, N.J. (WHTM) — The message was clear after Thursday’s season kickoff event, Penn State Football needs unity and support to be successful in 2023. The team met with top supporters of the program at an exclusive season kickoff event: ‘We Are… at the Shore!’ at the Avalon Yacht Club in New Jersey.
Lions Legacy Club, the NIL collective that supports Penn State football players under Happy Valley United, hosted an exclusive event for the programs top NIL supporters. The event was hosted by Will and Wendy Hoover, as well as West Shore Homes CEO B.J. Werzyn.
“From our perspective, getting to know [the players] on a personal level and them have a comfort with our family [as been special],” said Will Hoover. “We care about them as people first and they happen to play football. I think there’s a level of trust and affection and love, so to speak, that makes our entire program at Penn State a little bit different than any all of the NIL programs in the country.”
Werzyn and West Shore Homes were some of the first public supporters of Penn State’s NIL efforts, partnering with RB Nick Singleton in June 2022.
“Somebody had to do it right?” Werzyn asks. “Somebody had to lead by example and show people the way that they get involved and be able to support the program. These are the new rules of engagement. You can either play it or you can’t. We all obviously want Penn State to be more than relevant, we want them to be a powerhouse, and this is the way to do it.”
Over 120 people attended the event, designed to raise funds for the program’s NIL efforts.
“This has really been the Hoovers event,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “They spearheaded this starting last year, and it’s probably tripled in terms of the number of people that are going to be showing up to the event tonight. When you talk about the Jersey Shore and specifically Avalon, [it’s] huge Penn State country. So we thought we would come here and meet with them.”
In attendance from the Penn State program were head coach James Franklin, associate head coach Terry Smith, co-offensive coordiantor and tight ends coach Ty Howle, as well as other coaches and administrators. Players like quarterback Drew Allar, linebacker Abdul Carter, running back Nick Singleton, defensive lineman Chop Robinson and others also attended the event.
“[NIL] helped me a lot, especially like on a personal level with my brand,” Singleton said. “It especially helps us off the field of [making] those connections with a lot of people, good people.”
The Penn State Lettermen also had a strong showing with LaVar Arrington, Adam Taliaferro, Jordan Hill, Brandon Short, Michael Mauti and more in Avalon.
“Everything that these [players] do now, we are not living vicariously through them, they’re standing on our shoulders,” Short said of why the Lettermen come back to support. “We built a great foundation [for the program] and we want to help support this generation and then the next generation and next generation after that.”
Changes by the NCAA in 2021 to the Name Image and Likeness (NIL) rules have allowed college athletes to make money while still in college by participating in endorsement deals, charity events, and other business opportunities.
NIL Collectives are independent of the school, but fund opportunities and broker relationships with businesses on behalf of the school’s student-athletes. These groups are often formed by prominent alumni and supporters.
“[NIL gives] businesses accessibility to the [players], to our coaches, to our normal staff,” said Penn State’s Rashad Elby, who works to educate the community on NIL. “We’re going to find a value point for your company. So once we find that value point and what’s going to move the needle for you, [we] partner players with you and it’s a win win for both companies and our football program.”
These types of NIL relationships with businesses look different for each company, but can include inside access to Penn State football events like practices, games, meetings; using Penn State players in advertising like billboards, commercials and social media posts; appearances from players at company events, and more.
“I think the biggest thing is embrace the new model of college football,” Franklin said. “For us at Penn State to be where everybody wants us to be, we got to compete in every aspect. That’s on the field with development, that’s in the weight room, that’s in recruiting, that’s scheme, that’s retention of coaches, but that’s also with our players as well and making sure that we are showing our players how important they are to our community, our university, and specifically our athletic department.”
It’s not just business relationships. The hosts of the Avalon event, the Hoover family, works with Penn State’s program on a more personal level, helping to support the players on and off the field.
“At first, I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into, but it has definitely been an amazing experience for me and my family,” Wendy Hoover said. “Having a relationship with these young men has been very special. Being able to see them grow and experience different things and life outside of the football world and seeing them being successful academically as well. Being a part of their lives, they’ve become a great part of our lives.”
NIL also allows players to be more involved in charity projects on their own time. Penn State Lettermen Rich Stankewicz is the director of Lions Legacy Club and says NIL is opening players up to opportunities he wasn’t able to have.
“People need to understand that this is for the good of the community as well,” Stankewicz said. “We involve charities, [and] the players become part of the community and [can] interact with fans. When I played, we couldn’t even work a summer camp when I played.”
These NIL efforts at Penn State are coordinated by Happy Valley United, the NIL Collective supporting all 800 Penn State athletes. The division that oversees the football program’s players is called Lions Legacy Club.
“If you look around the country at successful NIL collectives, there are always major donors that step up to the plate and help fundraise,” said Lions Legacy Club’s Jen Ferrang. “There’s amazing power when we come together. We are now leveraging the scale and the scope of Penn State and our alumni base, our fan base. We have to activate and excite everybody now [to] get involved to help the players directly, to leverage their brand, [and] teach them how to be entrepreneurs.”
For more information on Penn State’s NIL program, Happy Valley United (the NIL collective supporting all Penn State athletes) and Lions Legacy Club (the football specific collective), you can visit the Happy Valley United website by clicking here.
Penn State Football fans will get closer than ever to the team this fall, as abc27 launches Nittany Insiders. Every Saturday, the preview show will break down Penn State’s matchup, feature player’s stories off the field, and focus on NIL progress.
The weekly preview show will be co-hosted by former NFL linebacker and Penn State All-American Michael Mauti and abc27 Sports Director Allie Berube.
Each week Allie and Michael will break down the week’s upcoming game and share what the Nittany Lions will need to focus on for a win. Michael will be able to provide a unique expert analysis from the perspective of a former player.
The show will also feature a player spotlight, features on Lettermen, and content highlighting the program’s NIL efforts to create the most comprehensive Penn State show in the state each and every week.
Nittany Insiders will air every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. starting Saturday, August 26th. The 30-minute shows will feature interviews and insight you can only see on abc27.