Agent search begins before season for UNC football players

Tre Boston stood just outside of the North Carolina locker room — the last collegiate football he’d ever intercept still in his hands. Barely an hour had passed since UNC’s Belk Bowl Championship win against Cincinnati Dec. 28, and Boston already had the future on his mind.

Agents. Training. The combine. Pro day. Draft day.

“Oh, man — I started thinking about that after the game,” said the senior safety, laughing. “I gotta sign (with an agent) here pretty soon, really tonight. It’s crazy to have that transition from college to the NFL that fast. I’m doing it in less than a couple of hours.”

By no means, though, was that the first moment Boston had considered his future — that’s a process that begins much sooner for UNC football players.

Within the last 18 months, the University has implemented an agent and advisor program that aims to connect players with agents and promote dialogue between them before the football season even begins. That way, they’ll be prepared to sign with an agent in anticipation of the NFL draft in May.

“We want that done, coach (Larry) Fedora wants that done, between January and July, so we allow seven months,” said Associate Athletic Director Paul Pogge. “And we encourage that communication. We think it’s good for the guys to have sometimes multiple opportunities to sit down and visit with somebody who might represent them and help them handle their money someday.

“We want it to be well-thought-out decision at the appropriate time.”

That philosophy is an uncommon one, Pogge said, noting that some schools provide a single day for those arrangements.

Pogge runs the agent-screening program at UNC, designed to protect and educate student athletes as they prepare for the future. He compares it to a career-services office.

Agents are required to register with the state of North Carolina and the University before communicating with players, and Pogge must be present when they do talk, he said.

“We help (student athletes) ask the hard questions,” Pogge said. “I might ask an agent, ‘What sorts of arrangements do you have with financial advisors? Are you getting kickbacks? How about with trainers? … How about with training expenses — is there a clause in that agreement that says he has to pay it back if he’s not drafted above X round?”

Players who have declared for the NFL draft cannot sign an agreement with an agent until their final game ends. Many, like Boston, sign Standard Representation Agreements hours after that game. Pogge said he tells players to have at least three agents in mind before the season even begins, removing some stress from the equation.

“It makes it easier because we can focus on football while they’re handling those things for us and they’re setting up meetings,” said defensive end Kareem Martin. “It’s not a burden on us as it would be in past years.”

After signing, players arrange with their agents to train at a facility, such as International Management Group and Athletes Performance Institute. That training can cost up to $30,000 for a few weeks, Pogge said, and the agent, if he or she believes highly in that player’s draft status, could cover some or all of that cost.

From there, players might go on to compete in various all-star games, such as Martin, who will play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl Jan. 25. The NFL holds its combine at the end of February, giving invited prospects the chance to train in front of NFL personnel, and UNC hosts its pro timing day at the end of March — another opportunity for players to impress scouts.

Boston, Martin, quarterback Bryn Renner, tight end Eric Ebron, among others all look to make the jump to the NFL come draft day — a future they’ve been preparing for, but one that is still coming quickly.

“I’m trying to take it all in real fast,” Boston said amid the Belk Bowl celebration. “I honestly didn’t even get to crying. The boys know I’m one of the emotional guys on the team. It’s just all so fast.

“But at the end of the day, I really do feel blessed.”

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