Former East Bay football star sues Gators’ coach and others over failed $14 million NIL deal

By MARK LONG | AP Sports Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Florida recruit and current Georgia quarterback Jaden Rashada is suing Gators coach Billy Napier and the program’s top booster over a failed name, image and likeness deal worth nearly $14 million.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Pensacola alleges Napier and booster and automotive technology businessman Hugh Hathcock with fraudulent misrepresentation and inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentations, tortious inference with a business relationship or contract, aiding and abetting tortious interference and vicarious liability. The complaint seeks a jury trial and damages of at least $10 million.

“Sadly, this type of fraud is becoming more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college NIL landscape,” said attorney Rusty Hardin, who is representing Rashada. “Wealthy alumni, consumed by their schools’ athletic programs, are taking advantage of young people by offering them life-changing sums of money, only to renege on their commitments.

Pittsburg quarterback Jaden Rashada (5) warms up before the start of their game against McClymonds at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Sept. 30, 2022. Florida has granted Rashada a release from his national letter of intent. It comes three days after he requested to be let go because the Gator Collective failed to honor a four-year name, image and likeness deal worth more than $13 million. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group via AP)/Bay Area News Group via AP) (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO, AP)

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FILE – Arizona State quarterback Jaden Rashada throws a pass against Oklahoma State during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. Rashada has committed to Georgia and is back in the Southeastern Conference after the one-time Florida commit’s NIL deal fell apart. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Pittsburg quarterback Jaden Rashada (5) is pressured by Liberty’s Grant Buckey (72) during the second quarter of the 2022 CIF State Football Championship Division 1-A game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Pittsburg quarterback Jaden Rashada(5) looks to pass against Manteca during the second quarter of their CIF NorCal Division 1-A regional championship game at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Pittsburg defeats Manteca 35-14. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Pittsburg quarterback Jaden Rashada (5) looks to pass the ball against McClymond during the fourth quarter of their game at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. Pittsburg defeated McClymonds 39-21. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Pittsburg quarterback Jaden Rashada (5) runs for yardage against Valley Christian in the first quarter of their game at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

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“As the first scholar-athlete to take a stand against this egregious behavior, Jaden seeks to hold these defendants accountable for their actions and to expose their as-yet unchecked abuse of power.”

Florida had been under NCAA investigation since last June regarding Rashada’s recruitment. The NCAA asked the school not to conduct its own investigation and said it would notify the institution “soon regarding the projected timeline of the investigation.”

But in March, the NCAA halted investigations into booster-backed collectives or other third parties making NIL compensation deals with Division I athletes.

The Gators may have thought they were off the hook. But Rashada’s lawsuit puts them back in the spotlight, at the very least.

Rashada, who threw for 5,275 yards and 59 touchdowns at Pittsburg High School, initially agreed to play for Miami in the fall of 2022. According to the lawsuit, the Hurricanes promised Rashada a $9.5 million NIL deal.

Napier and Hathcock lured Rashada from his Miami commitment with an NIL deal worth $13.85 million, which violated NCAA bylaws, the suit said. The lawsuit says Napier vouched for the collective and said Rashada would receive $1 million on signing day.

“But before Rashada could arrive on Florida’s campus, the … contract was terminated — suddenly and without warning,” according to the suit.

Rashada was granted his release a month later after his NIL deal fell through. He later signed with father’s alma mater, Arizona State. He spent one season in Tempe before landing at Florida’s biggest rival, Georgia.

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Rashada bailed on Florida after the Gator Collective — an independent fundraising group that was loosely tied to the university and paid student-athletes for use of their NIL — failed to honor a multiyear deal that was signed by both sides.

The bombshell came a little more than two months after Rashada switched his verbal commitment from Miami to Florida. Rashada, his representatives and the Gator Collective had presumably agreed to terms on the lucrative deal at the time of his flip.

The Gator Collective has since been disbanded.

Other defendants include Marcus Castro-Walker, the school’s former director of player engagement and NIL, and Velocity Automotive Solutions LLC, which was owned by Hathcock and was slated to provide most of the funding for Rashada’s deal.

The complaint includes text messages that allegedly document fraudulent promises and inducements, including several telling Rashada’s agent “we look forward to setting him (Rashada) up for life.”

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