Dec 23: Makai Lemon, Malachi Nelson primed to capitalize in NIL Era

While the rest of the country waiting for the next commitment or flip on National Signing Day, Malachi Nelson and Makai Lemon gathered friends and family in Los Angeles.

The quarterback-wide receiver duo from Los Alamitos will be staying home, playing their college football for the Trojans. But before they head to the Under Armour All-America Game and enroll early at USC, it was time to celebrate everything they’ve already accomplished.

They signed their National Letter of Intent earlier Wednesday morning. But Wednesday night was for the real festivities.

Since California become the first state to allow high schoolers to start monetizing their name, image and likeness, Nelson and Lemon have positioned themselves unlike many in the high school ranks.

Nelson has been filming a documentary throughout his final season at Los Alamitos with the FaZe Clan, the lifestyle and media platform. He also signed with the h.wood Group this past summer, a Los Angeles-based global hospitality firm. Through the deal with h.wood, he has posted multiple promotions for SLAB, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant, on his social media.

Wednesday night’s event was a culmination of the on-field and NIL success the duo has already experienced.

The event was held at FaZe Clan’s Warehouse in LA. SLAB catered the event. This was not the average signing day celebration, either. With more than 100 guests, USC cheerleaders and confetti, it was a reminder of how far things have come in the NIL Era.

“Wednesday was a super exciting time to celebrate both of our accomplishments,” Nelson told On3 in a statement. “Makai and I are super proud of each other and ready for the future, not even just on the field, but also with the opportunities in this new space where we are able to benefit on and off the field. It was awesome to be able to celebrate with some key partners, such as SLAB, which I did a partnership with earlier in the year. The people over there at the h.wood Group are truly family now.

“Also we are super excited for the documentary we have been filming all season in partnership with FaZe Clan, and glad some of the people there last night were able to watch the trailer.”


Malachi Nelson and Makai Lemon sign to play football at USC, Friday, December 21, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Jeff Lewis)

Preparing Malachi Nelson, Makai Lemon for NIL at USC

The Network Advisory represents both Lemon and Nelson. Under the leadership of Justin J. Giangrande and Brian Sher, the athletes have started to build out their brands.

Giangrande was formerly a vice president at Vayner Sports. Sher owns a Hollywood entertainment company, Crossover Entertainment, and has a track record of working with high-profile musical talent, as well.

On top of that, however, the agents have been introducing the two highly-touted recruits to brands and businesses across Los Angeles.

Those relationships are invaluable. And they ensure when Lemon and Nelson do play on Saturdays at The Coliseum, they’ll have a reliable network around them to capitalize on NIL away from the field.

Co-founded by a pair of USC grads, former walk-on quarterback John Terzian and his partner Brian Toll, the h.wood Group has more than 30 restaurants and clubs.

“As Trojan alumni, Malachi signing to USC is a proud moment for the h.wood Group family in more ways than one,” Terzian and Toll said. “The NIL business is a new frontier of collegiate sports, and we’re very pleased to be at the forefront of this through Malachi’s alignment with SLAB. Wherever Malachi goes, SLAB goes.”

Added FaZe Clan president and COO Zach Katz: “We couldn’t be more excited to be partnering with Malachi. He’s making huge leaps forward in the NIL space and we have the highest belief in his talent and potential.”

NIL has also put Lemon and Nelson in the spotlight. USC fans already know who they are. But thanks to the social media age, people are able to look past the athlete side of the soon-to-be college students.

“My favorite part of all of this is that people are really starting to get to know my son as a person, not only an athlete but as a kind, loving and genuine person,” Nelson’s mother, Naomi, said. “As a mom of an athlete, that part has been really important to me.”

Focus remains on football

The focus remains on football, despite the early NIL success.

A five-star plus recruit, Nelson was previously committed to Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma before following the head coach to USC. He has not even officially enrolled at USC yet, but the quarterback has more than 150,000 followers. He also has a $797K On3 NIL Valuation.

Lemon has also started to build a solid social media following, with roughly 20K followers and a $229K On3 NIL Valuation.

USC nearly won the Pac-12 title game this season. Nelson will have a year to learn behind Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Lemon will be thrown into the receiver rotation this spring, too.

“I’m humbled by this experience,” Lemon said. “But now I’m ready to work hard at USC and make my family proud. I’m looking forward to learning from coach [Dennis] Simmons to improve my game. Last year USC was close to winning the Pac-12, hopefully, I can do my part to help win a championship.

Giangrande and Sher will be ready to help their two clients capitalize. And if National Signing Day was any sign of how the next three to four years will go, there will be plenty of fireworks.

“The past year and a half of representing Malachi and Makai has been an honor, but also an amazing, fast-paced journey of helping them be the pioneers of the high school NIL space,” Giangrande said. “I think what’s most special about them is the fact we live in a world that is in love with the sexiness and glamor of the NIL space.

“Both of these guys have remained humble, loyal and focused on using it for good to help their families, friends and the community around them. We have some big things in store for both of them.”

Article by: Pete Nakos

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