“A lot of kids say, ‘they’re offering me $20,000.’ That’s not a lot of money to me,” the freshman phenom told Boardroom. “I’m looking for something long-term.”
In the fast-paced world of NIL, freshman Terrion Arnold of the Alabama Crimson Tide declined to dive head-first into the endorsement game. Instead, he’s playing the long game with a steady, deliberate approach.
As a 5-star football recruit and the No. 26 overall player in the class of 2021 according to 247Sports, the 6-foot-1 Tallahassee native chose the Crimson Tide over SEC rivals like Florida and Georgia for the opportunity not just to play for Nick Saban, but to take advantage of the incredible media exposure Alabama football earns year-round.
But in an extensive interview with Boardroom, Arnold volunteered that his first love was basketball — and that he’ll also play point guard for Bama as part of Nate Oats’ seventh-ranked recruiting class.
“Part of the reason I came here [is] because they got the biggest media base in football, and then their basketball team is up and coming,” Arnold told Boardroom. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life before I started playing football in high school. I just happened to get offered for football and became real good just off of going out there and getting in shape. I wasn’t going out there to play, I was going to get in shape.”
Arnold, a graduate of Tallahassee’s St. John Paul II Catholic High School, previously spent two years at Florida State University’s Research School, where he was coached by former Heisman Trophy winner, New York Knicks point guard, and two-sport icon Charlie Ward.
“I was ready to drop football,” Arnold said about his high school days coached by the FSU great, “and he’s like ‘nah, man, you can be one of the most decorated athletes in college with NIL coming. You have the opportunity to do it, you need to do it.’ So I kept going.”
Playing the Long Game
Just like his decision to keep playing football in high school — a choice that looked even better after picking off vaunted QB Bryce Young in an intra-squad scrimmage last week — the 18-year-old wasn’t about to make any rash decisions regarding his name, image, and likeness rights. Banking on his long-term value as a two-sport SEC star, he’s yet to take any substantial endorsement offers aside from a deal with Boost Mobile, which called for him to create four Instagram posts for $500 a pop.
(He also received an iPhone 12, which he gave to his mother.)
Otherwise, with advice from his mom, agents, lawyers, and financial advisors, Arnold is taking a measured approach, though he willingly disclosed that numerous agents have already reached out.
“A lot of these kids say, ‘they’re offering me $20,000.’ That’s not a lot of money to me,” he said. “I’m looking for something long-term, so when I do make it, I still have a connection to the agency I’m with.”
In that vein, Arnold says he has rebuffed offers from companies he feels are in it for quick publicity, fame, or clout. He’s also said no to more established brands like Cash App, which bet big on Alabama football by signing Young to a reported six-figure deal late last month.
Arnold says CashApp offered him $50,000.
He has worked in the past with outlets like Overtime, Ball Is Life, Salman Hasan’s Unguarded, and Under The Radar, which all helped him during his high school career. But for now, he’s holding off.
Learning from a Legend
It’s easy to understand why Arnold wasn’t interested in an instant flurry of deals when considering that he had Nick Saban recruiting him personally. After an assistant coach in the secondary initially kick-started the relationship, Arnold said Saban took over the process himself once he became a 5-star prospect.
“At first, you always hear different stories about him. Like, I was told he was a bad person, a coach that just used his players,” Arnold said about the six-time national champion coach. “But as you really get to know somebody, you really just learn that everybody who has a big legacy or who’s a winner. They’re portrayed like Michael Jordan: mean, will do anything, win at all costs. But outside of someone who wants to win, he’s a great man.”
Arnold and his family never got a home visit from Saban due to COVID protocols, but he did make a trip down to Tallahassee to see him at school.
“I’m getting ready to go to math,” Arnold said, “and I’m walking out in the hallway and they’re telling me ‘Terrion, you gotta go to the office real quick.’ I walk into the office and it’s Nick Saban. I’m like, oh, snap!”
Saban left town later that afternoon, but a Bama basketball staffer saw Arnold score 33 points that night, cementing his place as a two-sport athlete for the upcoming class in Tuscaloosa. Now, he’s directly interacting with Saban (who notably doubles as the defensive backs coach) 24/7, and Arnold considers the head coach to be quite active with the nuts and bolts of the secondary despite so many other responsibilities as the face of the program.
“Most people say he’s getting old, so he has his GAs and assistants do this for him, but he’s hands-on with everything on the field,” he said.” I mess up, he’s cussing me out, he’s demonstrating like, ‘you gotta do it like this.’ He’s in great shape. Most people wouldn’t expect that because he’s 69 years old, but he comes out and runs with us. Getting to know him and how he is and how he supports everyone, he’ll do anything.”
Know Your Worth
Instead of trying to make the NBA as a one-and-done at Kansas or Kentucky, Arnold aims to excel at both basketball and football — and become a millionaire while still in college. But rather than take the first NIL offers to come his way, the defensive back said he absolutely knows his worth and is proceeding accordingly.
“I know I’m worth big-time deals. I’m looking for long-term stuff as far as something I can build,” he said. “I can speak very well, so hopefully commercials, getting in front of people. That’s one of my strong points. Most people, you don’t find athletes who can talk. I love being in front of the camera. I can talk, act. I’m decorated like that.”
Arnold said he has high expectations going into his freshman season, which starts Sept. 4 with an afternoon battle against Miami. And as the season’s momentum builds, he’s looking to build not just a consistent role with the defending national champs, but a lucrative, lasting business partnership he can grow alongside for years to come.
If he lives up to the hype, the money will come flowing in; not a bad plan for a pro prospect in the two biggest sports in the nation.
And if Terrion Arnold’s productivity in the SEC matches both his potential and his confidence, there won’t be a much of anything holding him back.