Star treatment or not, Miami Hurricanes players say football will prevail once fall camp begins a week from Friday.
For quarterback D’Eriq King, his linebacker roommate Ryan Ragone, cornerback Al Blades Jr., receiver Charleston Rambo and the UM fans who want to mingle, their “Orange & Green Takeover” appearance Thursday night at Pilo’s Tequila Garden in Wynwood will be “the perfect last blowout before they dive fully into fall camp,” said their sports and entertainment attorney Adam Arnaout, a former UM walk-on center.
“Once they get into camp, nothing else matters,’’ Arnaout, 26, said. “It only makes sense this stuff should die down once we get to August. It would be alarming if it didn’t.”
The players insist they will not allow Florida’s new name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation that allows them to earn money through appearances, signings, podcasts — such as the King & Ragone Show— and other ventures, to bleed into their football focus.
“I don’t think anybody would put NIL over football,’’ King said. “It’s well understood on our team, from the leaders, from Coach [Manny] Diaz, from everybody, that football is the main goal. Nobody is going to miss practice for NIL. Nobody is going to miss workouts for that stuff. We’re here to play football.
“As soon as we see it we’re going to nip it in the bud and make sure it sticks,’’ King assured of any teammates who are distracted by NIL dealings. “Everybody is going to be worried about ball.’’
Fall camp looming
That remains to be seen, but for at least this week, players are juggling early morning workouts and other football-related responsibilities before they’re given off the weekend to “get our minds right for fall camp,’’ Ragone, a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore, told the Miami Herald.
“It doesn’t really affect the locker room,’’ said standout safety Bubba Bolden, who said he had two NIL deals and told beat writers at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff last week in Charlotte, North Carolina, that the Canes “keep the main thing the main thing.’’ It’s a common UM refrain in terms of player jealousy regarding NIL deals possibly affecting focus and chemistry.
“Don’t let none of this money, don’t let none of these deals, don’t let none of that affect you when you come into this building and we’re working out and doing stuff with the team,’’ Bolden said. “Outside of here, when you have your free time, you can do whatever you want... We don’t come into the locker room bragging about this deal or this deal. We try to keep things low key, but you know the media these days, that’s their job. They gotta put it out there. I don’t think nobody on our team feels disconnected or out of place.’’
On Monday, under the guidance of Miami-based Arnaout, who grew up in Los Angeles, played for Al Golden in 2014 and 2015 and knows exactly what college players have to juggle, the players he represents had their first appearance at Pilo’s. They met with about 50 intellectually impaired people who are part of the Best Buddies organization and Gigi’s Playhouse, both of which as part of their mission focus on helping those with special needs get employed.
Pilos was started by Derek Gonzalez, whose late aunt Pilo had Down syndrome and wants to reduce the disability employment gap, thus making it a point to hire those with special needs, said Arnaout, who has undergraduate, law and masters of law degrees from University of Miami.
“I understand the grind because I was literally in their shoes five years ago,’’ Arnaout said. “I know you need to put football first’.’ He said his player clients “are not just about putting money in their pocket but about making positive change and impacting the community in a meaningful way.’’
“It was a great, great event,’’ said Ragone, 21, who was accompanied by Blades and King on Monday during the closed meet and greet, which also drew UM punter Lou Hedley and long snapper Clay James. “We had a lot of fun with the people there. We threw the ball around. I even got in the dunk tank. D’Eriq dunked me! But it actually took him a few more times than everybody else.”
Ragone, who played one season as a walk-on at Arkansas State but earned a scholarship before his second season at UM in 2020, said the NIL money “really helps.’’
Money helps families
Ragone wouldn’t disclose the amount of money he earned through Pilo’s and his ongoing podcast sponsored by “Josh’s Premium Meats” and “CrossFit Key Largo,” but said it’s a “good amount.” He said he sends much of what he earns to his parents and family of six children in Houston. “My mom isn’t working now and my dad is a meat distributor who at one point was working three jobs at a time. That’s who he is. I’m from a real working class family.
“A lot of people on this team from different [economic] levels are helping our families. And the things we’re doing we enjoy. Me and D’Eriq on our next podcast episode talk about learning more about business, things that normally aren’t really possible at a young age.’’
Thursday’s “full-scale, crazy Miami nightclub party at Pilo’s,’’ Arnaout said, won’t get hopping until well into the night.
“Monday we showed the NIL industry players can use their choices for social good,’’ Arnaout said. “Thursday will be the final push before they take on the season.”
First and foremost, according to Arnaout, “they’re here to win championships.’’