Jaden Rashada alleges ‘false promises’ from Florida coach Billy Napier and others in lawsuit

Jaden Rashada alleges ‘false promises’ from Florida coach Billy Napier and others in lawsuit

Former Florida quarterback Jaden Rashada is suing Gators coach Billy Napier, a former member of the UF staff and a major booster of the university, alleging they made “false and fraudulent promises” to induce Rashada. to sign with the program in 2022.

Rashada initially committed to Miami in June 2022, before his senior year of high school, but moved to Florida five months later by signing a staggering four-year, $13.85 million contract with Gator Collective, a now-defunct organization that negotiated names, Image and Likeness Offers (NIL) for Florida athletes.

Weeks later, however, the collective terminated his contract before paying him a scheduled $500,000 signing bonus. By doing so, Rashada claims, he lost a $9.5 million deal he had with a Miami mega-driver.

The lawsuit alleges that the co-defendants continued to make financial promises to entice Rashada to sign in December, which she did shortly after “Coach Napier himself testified that UF alumni kept their promise that Jaden would receive $1 million.” if he signed with UF on National Signing Day.”

The unusual NIL bidding war between Florida and Miami driving Rashada, as detailed The Athletic In a story from last year, it came amid the rise of school-specific NIL collectives: independent organizations that provide NIL monetary opportunities for college athletes primarily by raising funds from donors, fans and sponsors. Less than two years later, collectives are ubiquitous and play a key role in college football recruiting.

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The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleges six counts of fraud, negligence and tortious interference against Napier; a former football staff member, Marcus Castro-Walker, who served as director of the NIL football program; Hugh Hathcock, Florida’s mega-booster; and a Hathcock automotive business. Florida fired Castro-Walker on February 1, shortly after The Athletic reported that he was one of the subjects of an NCAA investigation into Rashada’s recruitment, which has since been halted.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the University are named in the complaint. The UAA will provide personal advice to Coach Napier and we will direct all questions to those representatives,” Florida athletics spokesman Steve McClain said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks damages that “exceed the sum or value of $10 million.”

“Unfortunately, this type of fraud is becoming more common in the Wild West that is today’s college NIL landscape,” said Rusty Hardin, an attorney representing Rashada. “Wealthy alumni, consumed by their schools’ sports programs, prey on young people by offering them life-changing sums of money, only to renege on their commitments. As the first scholar-athlete to take a stand against this egregious behavior, Jaden seeks to hold these defendants accountable for their actions and expose their still unchecked abuse of power.”

Rashada, who was released from his letter of intent from Florida in January 2023, ultimately signed with Arizona State, where he began the Sun Devils’ 2023 season opener as a freshman. He recently announced his decision to transfer to Georgia, Florida’s rival. Napier avoided giving details when asked about Rashada’s departure at the time, but spoke broadly about NIL to the Associated Press, saying: “I think the reality is the current structure of NIL with third parties involved, with agents involved, with representatives of marketing, with the lawyers, with the groups, (it is) very fluid and I think it is a unique dynamic.”

Hardin, who has represented high-profile sports figures such as Roger Clemens, Adrian Peterson and Deshaun Watson, said he was hired by the family in January 2023 but had held off on filing a lawsuit in hopes that the investigation into the NCAA on Rashada’s recruitment to Florida and Miami will help. be resolved.

“Jaden was on the fence (about suing) for a while,” Hardin said. “He personally likes Napier. But he realized that more and more players (perhaps not at this level, with so much money offered) were having the same experience.”

The lawsuit alleges that Hathcock, a wealthy Florida benefactor, began pursuing Rashada around the same time Rashada committed to Miami, verbally offering an $11 million NIL deal to choose the Gators over the Hurricanes. Some media outlets reported that Rashada had a $9.5 million deal with a backup from Miami. In October, Hathcock had sweetened the deal by nearly $3 million to get Rashada to switch, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit cites an Oct. 27 text message from Castro-Walker to one of the player’s NIL agents, Jackson Zager, that said: “You know what we have to do in the next few days!! Get us the QB. 👀🤣.”

The lawsuit claims Hathcock planned to finance the eventual $13.85 million offer partially through his company, Velocity Automotive, which is listed as a co-defendant, but the contract offer itself came from Gator Collective.

The lawsuit cites several text messages between Eddie Rojas, CEO of Gator Collective, and Zager, including: “Tell Jaden we hope to set him up for life. He needs to set up his brokerage accounts as soon as possible. “The guy is rich and we’re just getting started.” Also: “We’re going to have to avoid the freaks in Miami(.) I hate Miami. “It will be fun to watch.”

Rashada publicly announced his move from Miami to Florida on November 10, 2022.

NCAA rules prohibit schools from using NIL money as a recruiting incentive, and at the time of these events, NIL boosters and collectives were prohibited from discussing financial terms with recruits. However, a judge’s preliminary injunction in March prohibited the NCAA from enforcing those rules. The NCAA later stopped investigations like the one in Florida.

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According to the lawsuit, over the next several weeks, several people associated with Hathcock, including Castro-Walker, assured Rashada’s representatives that Hathcock would make the $500,000 payment. Instead, the collective terminated the agreement on December 6. The next day, Castro-Walker told agents that Hathcock still planned to pay the $13.85 million, but that it would come from his own announced collective, called Gator Guard.

As the Dec. 21 early signing period approached, the lawsuit alleges that Jaden asked his father, Harlen, and his agents, “Can I sign?” to which Zager responded, “Not yet.” Castro-Walker “called Harlen to assure him that Jaden would receive $500,000 and all promised payments in the future.”

Napier’s scheduled press conference for National Signing Day was delayed as Rashada continued to hold out. Around that time is when Napier allegedly contacted Harlen, who relayed to Rashada’s agents: “Coach Napier said (Hathcock) on a plane and that he will telegraph to 1 Mil. He wants the paperwork and I will send it to him if you are good.”

The lawsuit says Jaden signed less than an hour after that conversation.

According to the lawsuit, the only money Rashada received from the Florida camp was a $150,000 wire transfer from Hathcock so that “Jaden could avoid potential litigation with Miami backup John Ruiz, who was seeking reimbursement of the 9-year NIL deal.” .5 million dollars after Jaden changed their engagement. from Miami to UF.”

The AthleticThe February 2023 article said Rashada had already received “around $125,000” from Ruiz’s company, LifeWallet. Ruiz said. The Athletic at that time that “there was no agreement between Rashada and LifeWallet for $9.5 million or anything remotely similar.”

“That’s not true,” Hardin said. “You may say there is no written contract, but oral contracts are the same thing.” (Oral contracts are enforceable in the state of Florida).

Ruiz issued the following statement to The Athletic Tuesday morning: “LifeWallet nor John H. Ruiz never had any settlement with Rashada that amounted to $9.5 million. LifeWallet had a very small deal with Rashada while he was a high school student in California. Rashada and his father are brave people. To date, I personally have a very good relationship with both of them. They both know that we deal with them honestly and fairly, as we always have with all NIL players. LifeWallet has a track record of complying with all of its NIL agreements. LifeWallet was reimbursed by those who controlled the Gators’ fundraising efforts. “While I have my own opinion on this matter, at this point this young man’s interests should be the focus.”

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Having previously committed or signed to three schools, Miami, Florida and Arizona State, Rashada is expected to report to Georgia for summer workouts next month.

“Similar to his decision to attend Arizona State, Jaden’s decision to attend Georgia this year was not in response to any promises, guarantees, or offers related to NIL money,” the lawsuit says. “She had learned her lesson.”

Castro-Walker did not immediately return calls and text messages seeking comment. When The Athletic contacted Velocity Automotive for comment from Hathcock, an employee said Hathcock sold the company.

Read the full lawsuit here.

Go deeper

Read the athletic one Investigative reporting on Jaden Rashada’s recruitment here.

(Billy Napier Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images)