Tristan Leigh can’t wait to see what the market is for an elite offensive tackle.
One of the nation’s most coveted blockers in the 2021 recruiting class has Oklahoma in his top six, along with LSU, Ohio State, Florida, Alabama and Clemson.
The school that ultimate lands the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Leigh might be the school that best promotes its student-athletes under the forthcoming NIL legislation.
“Branding,” Leigh told SI Sooners last week, “is very important to me, because of that new rule. I think that’s gonna be huge with college athletes. So branding and who’s gonna take advantage of that, get ahead of that early to benefit the players and the school.”
TRISTAN LEIGH SI ALL-AMERICAN BIO
The NCAA is trying to figure out how to allow its student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness. It’s a sticky subject that will no doubt invite the seedy underbelly of recruiting and involve less-than-honorable boosters.
Most models under discussion adhere closely to social media platforms — players can theoretically endorse products on Instagram or Twitter and get paid for the exposure.
For ventures like last week’s Sooner Summit, Leigh would appreciate the chance to attach his own brand to social media posts.
But even though the legislation is still at least a year away from implementation, some schools already stand out in that area, Leigh said.
“Actually, the (three) best with that have been Oklahoma, LSU and Ohio State,” he said.
“Oklahoma, they make these, like, edits, where you can see them on every platform. They list how to get to you on every single platform, Instagram, Twitter, stuff like that.
“LSU, they actually create, like, brands, like, prototypes, to show you, ‘If you went here, this would be your brand and we could get this.’ Seeing that, you’re not even there yet and they’re making prototypes for that, it’s huge.
“And then Ohio State, they’ve had their program, I know they did it with Chase Young, they have a whole guy running that. They have like a whole program for that.”
Now consider what years of polished NIL branding could do for even younger prospects, such as Leigh’s younger brother, Aiden, a 2023 offensive lineman who reportedly received a scholarship offer while attending Sooner Summit last weekend with his big brother.
For now, the senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, VA, has much to consider. The No. 61 overall prospect in Sports Illustrated All-American’s SI99 said so far, he’s had nothing but positive interactions with each of his top six schools.
He says academics is a big factor, what path the school can provide him for a post-football career, including internship opportunities. He also said family is huge, how the coaching staff and the university administration interacts with his mother and little brother.
“What’s important,” he said, “is the relationship. I need them to be honest with me.
“And then make sure the coach can develop his players. Because there’s no point in all the projecting with stuff like that, 247 and Rivals, if you go somewhere and the guy can’t get you to (be) that player. So, development.”
In that realm, Leigh has been wowed by the results of Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. Four linemen from the 2018 team are currently in the NFL — Cody Ford, Dru Samia, Ben Powers and Bobby Evans — and two are starters. The year before, Orlando Brown was picked and he made the Pro Bowl last year as a rookie. Daryl Williams was drafted in 2015 and is still in the league.
“He’s putting dudes in the league every year,” Leigh said. “And it’s not like they’re coming to him always highly recruited, high-rated guys. He’s just able to use their abilities to turn them into the best players. That’s what stood out to me the most.
“And also the culture here, it’s definitely a winning culture. Like when you talk to anyone of that staff or any of the commits even, you just know, it’s winning. The only thing is winning. There’s just no room for losing.”
There is room, however, for branding, and Lincoln Riley and his staff have introduced each of the last two recruiting classes with their own personal brands. Players, of course, love it.
Moving forward, they can also cash in on it.
“I do think it’s gonna be huge,” Leigh said. “I don’t know if anyone sees that yet. It’s gonna be huge.”
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