Florida's Zach Carter taking cautious approach to NIL

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

HOOVER, Ala. –– It’s been nearly three weeks since Name, Image and Likeness legislation altered the college sports landscape, though Florida defensive end Zachary Carter is in no rush to sign his name on each and every dotted line. 

After all, the introduction of NIL legislation is still in its infancy — much remains unknown when it comes to the long-term ramifications, for players and programs alike. 

Carter is far from alone when it comes to feeling in the dark — just take it from his head coach. 

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“I think there’s a learning curve that goes in that we’re working on right now. I don’t know if there’s a competitive advantage that’s stuck its head out just yet. You’re looking at a state law, and any time there’s a state law involved, you gotta get a bunch of lawyers involved. So I’m still learning all of that aspect of what’s real and the extent of where the law goes and then how you maneuver within the law to get things done the right way,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said. “I talk to my financial team to make sure we stay within those boundaries, but let’s make sure we’re taking advantage of the different laws that are on there.

"We are constantly trying to look at, what is the tax law? What is the investment law? What is your retirement? How are these different things set up. There’s every law out there. This is a state law that we’re learning about, of how to maneuver within to maximize what we can to help our players.” 

Florida defensive lineman Zach Carter answers questions during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Monday, July 19, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Like Mullen and many of his teammates, Carter is taking a wait-and-see approach, but that doesn’t mean he’s sat idly by and missed out on potentially lucrative opportunities. 

Skeptics be damned, businesses have lined up to strike deals with student-athletes. 

“It really kicked off July 1st when we had that NIL meeting, and they started to talk about it ‘It’s official, Florida law, guys can get paid now’ and it was kinda like, ‘Wow, guys can get paid now’,” Carter said. “I’m still trying to figure out the rules and stuff. The rules are still ongoing, and it’s only been a few weeks, so everybody’s still trying to get familiar with this NIL stuff, because it’s a lot that comes with it.”

Carter didn’t waste time shooting his shot either. On his Twitter account, Carter reached out to his favorite restaurant chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill, but a partnership didn’t materialize — not yet, at least. 

But Carter did reach a deal with another restaurant in Gainesville, and he has gear and merchandise on the way as well, all in under a three-week span. And this is considered to be a cautious approach, mind you. 

“Personally, I have some merchandise on the way. I should have it ready by the season,” Carter said, “and I’ve been linking up with different companies in Gainesville and back home (Tampa), and I reached out to some companies. A lot of food places, because I love food. I have a couple deals with a couple food places, like I signed with Vale Food Company.” 

If you’ve had an acai bowl from Vale, says Carter, then you know why the partnership had to happen. 

Although they’re student-athletes at a nationally renowned program, it’s ultimately social media that plays a significant role in landing partnerships, both minor and major. All of a sudden, Twitter and TikTok are valuable commodities for athletes rather than distractions or even vices; tweets and videos could put food on the table and heat the houses of athletes across the country, which means managing ones social media profile and image has never been more valuable. 

Though that may be a bit of a sore subject for Carter right now. The former four-star prospect had a verified Twitter account early in his UF career before his account was hacked, forcing him to start from scratch and rebuild his image. The coveted blue check has yet to return, his follower count pales in comparison to what he had initially, and he’s far from the only one. 

Florida safety Trey Dean had his account hacked as well, and the individual targeted those Dean followed, including former UF safety Ahmad Black, who lost his account for several weeks before managing to recover it. 

And most recently, UF quarterback Emory Jones’ Instagram page was hacked temporarily, which may seem trivial until one realizes Jones has more than 52,000 followers on the platform. 

“I had a pretty good fanbase on Twitter, but I hacked and couldn’t get it back,” Carter recollects. “It’s crazy, but social media, it’s 2021, it’s becoming like a big thing, and it can be harmful but it also can be used to help and really build your platform.”

Fortunately for Carter and his teammates, they’re not alone when it comes to navigating the avenues and potential pitfalls. 

“Compliance helps with a lot of things. We can contact compliance if we have questions. They’re really the most familiar with NIL,” Carter said. “You know, our coaches, they’re still learning and stuff, but when we had a team meeting they were going off a UAA packet, so any questions we have to go through the UAA and stuff.”

The ones expected to have all the answers suddenly are just as lost as those seeking their guidance.

Carter put it best: Welcome to 2021, where student-athletes have never had more incentive to sit in front of a screen as opposed to training. 

That’s where Carter, a redshirt senior and a leader in Florida’s locker room, feels conflicted. As 17-to- 18-year-olds begin to face choices regarding how much time they’ll devote to building short-term yet potentially necessary wealth, will there be a drop-off in development or production? Seeing as it’s the offseason, it remains to be seen, though it’s a topic at the forefront of the minds of many. 

“The way I feel about it, it’s just take advantage of this. I think we deserve to benefit somewhat off of our name, image and likeness, but the big thing is don’t get too involved in it that you’re not handling your business on the field and focusing too much on that stuff,” Carter said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s NIL money. You might make a little something, but if you do the right things and make it to the NFL, it probably won’t compare to that money.”

So far, coaches seem to be touting a similar line. 

When Florida freshman defensive tackle Desmond Watson promoted on his Twitter account he was streaming “Call of Duty: Warzone”, defensive line coach David Turner cracked a joke at his expense, replying “Instead of running some Warzone, how about just getting out and RUNNING” — a harmless joke, yet one indicative of a genuine concern. 

Carter’s approach remains the same: wait-and-see, but stay diligent. Though only time will tell, Carter’s continued growth as a leader means he must help prepare the future at Florida while navigating the unknowns on his own. 

“It might be harder for young guys,” Carter concludes, “but I want to help them understand.”