Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Gator Collective’s Edward Rojas and Jen Grosso signed a contract with Jaden Rashada on Nov. 10. Grosso, who is involved in coordinating post-agreement activities for players, did not sign the contract.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Quarterback signee Jaden Rashada is stuck in play-action purgatory as Florida works to fix a name, image and likeness indiscretion.
Whether you’ve followed this recruiting saga casually or with a white-hot focus, this explainer provides a bumper-to-bumper breakdown that aims to illuminate, educate and postulate:
Who are the people involved?
Along with Gators head coach Billy Napier and athletic director Scott Stricklin, here are the central figures:
Jaden Rashada, four-star quarterback from Pittsburgh, Calif., and the No. 56 overall prospects in the 2023 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite. Among the highest-ranked quarterbacks landed by the Gators in the past decade, he signed his national letter of intent on Dec. 21, and following an appearance at the Under-Armour All-American event in Orlando on Jan. 3, he reiterated to The Athletic that he planned to enroll at Florida two days later.
Harlen RashadaJaden’s father and a former defensive back at Arizona State.
Eddie RojasCEO of the Gator Collective, which he launched in August 2021. A former Florida baseball player who entered the NIL space with a crowdsourcing platform, Rojas hoped to make his alma mater known as “NIL U.”
He said of his collective in April: “I would venture to say the Gator Collective is paying more guaranteed money than any group in the country. When I write a contract, I want to make sure that we actually have the money in our account.”
Jen Grosso, NIL coordinator for the Gator Collective. Known as “Gator Jen” to the fan base — it’s also her Twitter handle — Grosso holds finance and law degrees from the University of Florida.
Hugh Hathcock, a mega-donor who pledged $12.6 million to Florida’s athletic department in 2022. In April, he launched the Gator Guard — an assembly of wealthy donors capable of writing checks larger than the fan collective could amass in years. Hathcock said, “Players need to know if they come to the University of Florida that they’re going to have the best opportunities NIL-wise as any school in America.”
Marcus Castro-Walkerthe Gators’ director of player engagement and NIL, among the first crush of staffers hired by Napier upon becoming Florida’s head coach in December 2021.
Tracking the Rashada timeline
June 7: Jaden Rashada takes an official visit to Florida. The Rashadas assure the staff that NIL is not a factor in Jaden’s recruitment, claiming “there’s a misconception about us out there.” The visit ends with Florida looking like the frontrunner for Rashada.
June 9-12: Rashada joins his 7-on-7 team the Miami Immortals — a travel squad funded by the University of Miami billionaire booster John Ruiz — at the OT7 national tournament in Las Vegas.
June 20: Initially scheduled to reveal his commitment on June 18, Rashada postponed the announcement and scheduled an official visit to Miami.
June 26: Rashada commits to Miami over Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. The Gators staff had pulled its scholarship offer days earlier.
Nov. 10: Rashada and the Gator Collective agree to terms on a NIL deal exceeding $13 million. Such a massive pledge is thought to dramatically exceed the Gator Collective’s fundraising level, so the deal presumes assistance from Hathcock or other Gator Guard donors. After signing the contract, Rashada decommits from Miami and flips to Florida.
Nov. 12: Rashada attends his first game at The Swamp, where Florida clobbers South Carolina 38-6 and a capacity crowd elevates the vibe. “Everything about this felt like the right decision for Jaden,” Harlen says.
December 7: Rojas sent a termination letter regarding the $13 million contract, according to a program source close to the situation. There are conflicting accounts about why the deal collapsed and who pledged to pay what. Multiple conversations ensue between donors and athletic department members, including Castro-Walker and Stricklin. Some within the administration are only now getting up to speed on what was promised — the program aiming to keep these third-party NIL dealings at arm’s length. Yet these conversations ultimately focus on finding contingencies for keeping the class’ highest-profile recruit in the fold.
December 21: Delayed 67 minutes, Napier’s late-afternoon news conference on national signing day finally begins. Rashada’s name, initially missing from the list of signees, was added at the last minute. “I just think there’s a high level of trust on both ends there,” Napier says about recruiting the Elite 11 quarterback. “I’m really excited about what he’s going to bring to our team. … Can’t compliment Jaden enough relative to who he is as a person, as a leader, his character. Jaden is a guy who came here and fell in love with the University of Florida and really connected with a lot of people here. It was sincere.”
Taylor: Billy Napier doing flips over Jaden Rashada. “We felt like the connection is real”
December 29: Rashada arrives in Orlando to begin practicing for the Under-Armour All-American game. He compliments fellow Florida signees and says he’s eager to start workouts with receivers at the indoor facility. Rashada describes Napier as a coach who “likes to connect to people” and adds, “Who wouldn’t want to play for a good dude?”
December 30: In an interview mere days before Rashada’s scheduled enrollment, Harlen calls Napier “a leader of men” and says Jaden is “happy as I’ve ever seen him.” Harlen offers only sparse thoughts about NIL: “It’s new in the college landscape. It does affect recruiting and the game – but I think there are far more positives than negatives. This process was not great, was not perfect, but you’re just trying to make the right decision with your son.”
Jan. 3: Moments after the Under-Armour game at Camping World Stadium, Rashada poses for pictures with other Florida signees. He praises Napier’s offense, saying, “I’m meant for the Florida system” and that he has gotten a head start on studying formations. Then he waves to his family in the bleachers. The Rashadas intend to drive from Orlando to Gainesville for move-in day on Jan. 5.
Jan. 10: Sixteen early enrollees report, but Rashada is not among them, casting doubt about his future. There is still a probability that he will ultimately enroll at Florida, although Rashada has returned to the West Coast.
Jan. 11: A program source with knowledge of the entanglement says Rashada won’t be enrolled at Florida. “There’s a lot of panic. It’s like stepping on an ant pile.” There is also the potential for litigation, depending on whether the November contract is binding. The collectives, according to another program source with knowledge of the situation, are offering a lesser deal to Rashada – still above seven figures – to stay in Florida, with the caveat that he releases everyone from all previous claims.
With recruiting drama over, Jaden Rashada ready to compete at Florida: ‘It’s going to be crazy’
Refuting an On3 report claiming Rashada asked to be released from his national letter of intent at Florida, Harlen says his son has not filed for such a release. In addition, he told 247Sports that the family is “working through some things right now with Florida and hoping that they get resolved soon.” While saying his son is anticipating early enrollment in Gainesville, Harlen admits the situation becomes murkier if there is not a resolution by Jan. 13, the spring semester’s late-registration deadline.
Harlen Rashada, the father of 4-star Gators QB commit, tells The Athletic his son “has not filed for a release from Florida.”
— G. Allan Taylor (@GAllanTaylor) January 11, 2023
Jan. 13: While this is the final deadline for students to start the spring semester, let’s not pretend the admissions office won’t grant an exception of a couple of days for an Elite 11 quarterback. Regardless, this points toward a make-or-break 11th-hour decision by Rashada — accept Florida’s counter and enroll or start speed-dialing other FBS schools. Of course, there’s the chance that he could sacrifice spring and enroll at Florida in late May, which might crash the message boards over such extended drama.
Has this become a lose-lose for Florida?
Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz arrives with two years of eligibility, and Jack Miller returns from an unflattering start in the Las Vegas Bowl. That’s hardly a scintillating duo. Those two are more of the getting-by variety, two older quarterbacks capable of steering the Gators through a rebuild.
Rashada brought real juice. Sure, he needed to pack on some weight as part of his freshman orientation, but he’s a blue-chip high school quarterback — the type top contenders sign each year, the type absent from Florida’s previous two classes. Stack these QBs year after year, and teams have a group familiar with their system and are deep enough to absorb a bust. Go through a recruiting slump, and teams are perpetually picking through the portal for guys who must be reprogrammed.
Even if the relationship somehow proves salvageable and Rashada enrolls in Gainesville, would it only portend future dysfunction? Having overcome one breakup last summer, can the program and Rashada’s camp repair another rift? At a position that demands intangible leadership and deeply grooved trust with coaches, it’s hard to fathom a quarterback enduring a messier launch to his college career.
The recent behind-the-scenes interplay — from the December signing day hangup to this week’s enrollment drama — has created bruised feelings at a minimum and abject animosity. There’s a comparison to Major League Baseball arbitration, in which a player touts his value even as his own team argues to diminish it. Of course, those hearings typically involve grown men, calloused by previous professional contract negotiations. Rashada is 19 years old, mere weeks removed from his high school graduation, although with college football recruiting being shaped by various tiers of NIL pitches, he has undeniably surged into a professional realm.
SEC recruiting in the NIL era is saltier than ever: First, Nick Saban says Texas A&M “bought every player” in its top-ranked class, and now the Gators are saddled with the damning perception that they defaulted on what was promised to their top – rated signee.
It’s a dilemma. Not from the perspective of the state NIL law or an NCAA guideline, neither of which is being enforced, but a dilemma that affects optics. Is this a one-off misstep, or have the Gators completely flubbed their first swing at NIL? Why haven’t we heard of Alabama, Georgia or other SEC schools suffering such public embarrassments?
When Napier took the Florida job, he extolled the alignment from the president to the AD to the head coach. Now Ben Sasse is replacing Kent Fuchs as the president, and the Rashada predicament screams that the alignment is disjointed.
Already time to realign.
(Photo: Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)