Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker Calls NIL Pay A ‘Blessing’, But Cedric Tillman Says There’s A Catch

ATLANTA — The ongoing conversation surrounding Name, Image and Likeness has centered around high school prospects having the opportunity to collect a lot of money at the end of their recruitment.

The compensation we are hearing about around the country has already surpassed the million dollar mark for some, but Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman are all for the players cashing in on their hard work, but also being smart with the money along the way.

How much a prospect is getting to sign with a school or the arguments over what some call inducements have played a major role in recruiting, not just for high school prospects.

We are currently witnessing a change in the sport of college football, where players entering the transfer portal are seeing major dollar signs pointing their way. It used to be just solely for the 17-18-year-old future star, but now the portal has become an overwhelming factor in recruiting.

But looking around the country, high school prospects are still the driving force of this industry, with players reportedly signing with schools for huge figures thanks to NIL.

It’s not only the top-100 players in the recruiting rankings, with NIL being used to put together rosters across the country, from 3-stars to some of the highest-rated prospects according to different sites. But one of the contributing factors that we are seeing in some of these high-profile players signing or committing  to certain schools is the money being offered or the opportunity to make a certain amount once you step foot on campus. 

Not every player is going to end up at the school that offers them the most, but most coaches will tell you that NIL is brought up in just about every conversation revolving around a possible commitment. 

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It’s a new College Football, one where coaches are still getting used to the process, while also trying to stay as far away as possible from NCAA infractions.

But it’s happening all over, and if you don’t adapt, you’ll be left behind. There’s also the question of what the current student-athlete thinks of a player just entering the program making all of this money, sometimes more than the current stars of the team. 

Well, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was asked about this new process on Thursday at SEC Media Days, sharing that it doesn’t bother him and would be doing the same thing if he was in this process as a recruit.

“I mean, to each its own, It’s a blessing man. If I was coming out, I’d wanna get paid to. There’s some guys that are special out here that you know, have earned that. At the end of the day, they put in the same work that we put in, so why shouldn’t they be rewarded as well.

“It’s still a factor that when you get there, you gotta show up,” Hooker added. “For sure, I would say you take advantage of that, young guys and continue to work hard.”

These conversations are happening in every locker room around the country. Veterans who have put in the hard work and are currently starting for their school could be making far less than the freshman that’s about to report to campus for the first time. 

I imagine it bothers some, more so because this process was done in the shadows of parking lots over the last number of decades and the money most likely wasn’t as high. But you also have players who aren’t the jealous type, knowing that the game is changing before their eyes.

Most importantly for a player like Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman, he emphasized that players should be careful with their money and bring the same passion onto the field. The current landscape of College Football doesn’t sound like it’s bothering a player like Tillman, though it might not be the same in every locker room. 

“I think it’s a good thing for them, I am not gonna be a jealous guy or an old grumpy dude. Whatever can bless somebody, somebody’s family, it’s a good thing. I hope the kids take that money, use it for good and continue that passion on the field as they would if they went to school for free. 

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“I am not gonna tell somebody how to spend their money, but they definitely should be smart,” Tillman added. “Some of the conversations I’ve had you have to remember there are taxes and other things you have to pay for. You can’t just spend all your money on jewelry and clothes. So just definitely be smart with it, and you can have fun here and there.”

In a day and age where money seems to be the main topic surrounding College Football, whether it’s NIL or Television contracts, the players are the ones getting us to tune in.

So if you’re an upcoming prospect who could be making a lot of money off your Name, Image and Likeness over the next five years, I’d pay attention to the words of players like Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman.


Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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