Boardroom gets the inside story from Pierce Clarkson, a Louisville QB commit from California’s elite St. John Bosco High School and NIL trailblazer with his very own company, FlyVille.
In the first 15 months of amateur sports’ name, image, and likeness era, a handful of high school athletes (in the 13 states where it’s legal at the prep level) have secured breakthrough brand partnerships — see Mikey Williams with Puma and the Thompson Sisters with Nike. However, when it comes to football players specifically, the biggest NIL headlines have tended to revolve around rumored multi-million-dollar offers shepherded by third-party college collectives to coax top talents into attending their respective institutions.
One recruit who has instead taken control of his future in a more creative, tangible, sustainable way is quarterback Pierce Clarkson of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California.
Over the past year, the 4-star signal caller and son of famed quarterback coach Steve Clarkson has not just helped to build the University of Louisville’s historic 2023 recruiting class, but established his own apparel and lifestyle company, FlyVille, all while leading the top-ranked high school team in the country to a 6-0 record this season to date.
But what sets Clarkson apart from the pack isn’t just his stellar play (he has now added catching touchdowns to his dual-threat QB arsenal), but his entrepreneurial instincts as both a recruit and a newly-minted CEO.
When announcing his literal and figurative commitment to Louisville in January, he didn’t host a traditional press conference or simply post a social media graphic — he and his family invested in 13 billboards across the Louisville area reading “Dear Louisville, I’m home. Let’s build something special together. Love Pierce Clarkson,” In head-turning fashion, he sent a clear message to the Cardinals community that he intends to be with them for the long haul.
In the era of de-commitments and the NCAA transfer portal, this was an impactful moment for perhaps the next great athlete and leader in the 502 area code — and for the country’s largest city without a pro sports team from the big four US leagues.
So, how did a Southern California kid end up choosing a school and community so fundamentally different from Los Angeles?
“Louisville was the first school in my recruiting process that made me a priority,” Clarkson told Boardroom. “I built a real relationship with the coaches and the people out there, all through the phone during COVID. I had never been to Kentucky, I had no expectations. I’m from California. I went out there open-minded and I completely fell in love with the place. The city, the vibe, the people, the staff, the players, I fell in love. I remember leaving there, getting on the plane to come home, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’“
But once Clarkson committed to the Cardinals earlier this year, he knew his work was just getting started.
While spearheading recruiting efforts through his own channels and relationships — Louisville currently has a consensus top-20 recruiting class for 2023 that notably includes St. John Bosco teammates Deandre Moore, Aaron Williams, and Jahlil McClain — the concept that became FlyVille was born.
“I wanted to build a [recruiting] class that could help me push FlyVille along because I knew I couldn’t do it alone,” Clarkson added. “I wanted to help get the guys who are obviously ballers, but who I’ve seen could also bring something positive in their own way. Everyone has something they can bring to this city, the program, the school, and community. This class is really special.”
In focusing on his three personal pillars of love, loyalty, and unity, Clarkson created the FlyVille brand. Today, the emerging company is focused on signature apparel and content creation, with the QB serving as both CEO and primary creative driver.
Launching in conjunction with Louisville football’s season opener on Sept. 3, FlyVille features a collection of streetwear-inspired premium heavyweight graphic t-shirts and hoodie sweatshirts, with more apparel drops to come. After teasing the brand on sample pieces during previous recruiting visits to Louisville, Clarkson started to see bootleg versions being sold online — confirming a true demand for the product.
“FlyVille is what embodies me; I wanted to bring people together and I thought, ‘what better way.’ This is just the beginning. Bringing people together through fashion and style embodies this,” Clarkson said, “but it’s about the movement. A lot of people make clothes and put words on shirts; FlyVille is more than that — it’s a state of mind. It’s about the people behind Louisville, the city, the program, and this class. It’s an embodiment of what we stand for and building something special.”
As company’s website announces: “FlyVille is more than a hashtag or a place, it’s a state of mind and a way of life. FlyVille represents the best of the past, and an even more promising future. The brand was created by an athlete to support athletes, but you don’t need to be on the roster to join the squad.”
The vision for FlyVille extends well beyond apparel, and as its infrastructure and network continues to grow, so will the opportunities for making a broader impact. Clarkson has already signed his current St. John Bosco and future Louisville teammates Moore, Williams, and McClain to NIL deals with the brand, in addition to fellow Cardinals commit Jamari Johnson of nearby Inglewood High School. There are plans to forge similar pacts with the entire 2023 Louisville recruiting class after all letters of intent are official, as well as with current UL football student-athletes before the end of 2022 season.
But in the meantime, as Clarkson’s profile continues to grow with every week St. John Bosco sits on top of the national rankings — right on cue, they face off against No. 2-ranked Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California) on Oct. 7 — his NIL strategy for the future remains focussed.
“The way I approach NIL is that I want to stay true to me — I look forward to those opportunities. The way I’m navigating is strategic because I want everything that I do to embody me — who I am and have a purpose and meaning. Not just to make money to make money, I want to do things that have meaning and purpose.”
And Clarkson’s purpose beyond football has already taken on a clarity that belies his age. He wants to leave a lasting impact not only at the high school level and in his native southern California, but on his next community in Louisville.
“I want to build something special and do something that is going to be remembered. You come to Louisville and think of Muhammad Ali and greats like that,” he said. “He left a legacy that everyone remembers. I want to create my own legacy like that — a positive legacy that is something that can be celebrated after I leave.”
Although Clarkson won’t officially be a Louisville resident until he becomes an early enrollee in January, his local impact is already very, very real.
And thanks to his entrepreneurial verve, the hype around the 2023 recruiting class continues to grow by the day.
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