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Could Georgia high school players get paid?
Local athletes weigh in on NIL issue; it’s on the table for GHSA this fall

When the NCAA made the decision to allow college athletes to earn money—or a benefit as they called it—off their name, image and likeness it created a new chapter in amateur athletics albeit one which has been nothing short of confusing what with each state having different guidelines Now, another NIL chapter is being written, one which involves high school sport and it is as chaotic as the college.

As of July 1 when NIL became effective in Kentucky, a total of 30 states and the District of Columbia now allow NIL for high school athletes and their rules for the most part differ from their college guidelines.

Georgia is not one of the 30 but it could be added to that list. The GHSA Board of Trustees announced in April it will discuss NIL for the state’s prep athletes this fall.

High school athletes, like their college counterparts, are already shopping around for the best deal and coaches are left in limbo, especially when it comes to losing an elite athlete to a neighboring state.

Texas, for example, does not allow NIL for its high school athletes. There have been reports of some Texas schoolboys going to California which has liberal NIL rules.

What the GHSA will decide to do is anyone’s guess. The board has received input from coaches and athletic directors and will weigh it while they also look at how other states are handling the issue.

GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines told Georgia High School Football Daily last April that “when we’re ready to do something we want to make sure guardrails are in place.”

From a legal point of view NIL deals make sense but in looking at how things are currently unfolding at the collegiate level it could open a Pandora’s box of issues for high schools, especially in the metro Atlanta area where recruiting is more of an issue than in the more rural areas of the state and Coastal Georgia.

Bryan County seniors Tanner Ennis and Austin “Smush” Clemons and Richmond Hill junior Thomas Zimbalatti had opinions from the student-athlete point of view while Coaches Matt LeZotte of Richmond Hill and Bryan County Coach Cherard Freeman also had thoughts on the subject.

The three players are all being recruited to play college football while LeZotte and Freeman were both scholarship athletes and played on teams that won FCS national championships. LeZotte was a quarterback at James Madison and Freeman was a running back at Georgia Southern.

Ennis, Bryan County defensive back/ wide receiver: “I’m not really too big on it. Kids getting money is not a good thing. Most are not mature enough to handle it. I just don’t know. Not sure about it. It could create issues.”

Clemons, Bryan County running back/ linebacker: “I think it’s a big deal and I think it’s okay as long as the athlete has some type of guidance. The parents… at least my Mom would be there every step of the way to guide me to keep me on the right path. I like to buy my own things; I want to have my own stuff. I know I’m just in high school but as long as they have some type of guidance, I don’t see a problem with it.”

Zimbalatti, Richmond Hill offensive lineman: “I feel like college kids should get NIL but I don’t think high school kids should unless they are already going to go to college and have a commitment. It would be nice for some high school athletes to have it but I think it would really hurt high school standards.”

LeZotte, Richmond Hill head coach: “I don’t necessarily agree with it at the college level. I don’t think it’s controlled very well so I’m reserved in saying its okay (high school level). I think individuals should be able to capitalize on their successes and ability but it can get out of control. Schools (high schools) with a lot of resources and deep community pockets are going to be able to do a lot more things and it’s going to pull into question some of the other rules GHSA has with eligibility, moving and things of that nature. I have a hard time seeing that (NIL) trickle down to the high school level when they can’t control it at the college level.”

Freeman, Bryan County head coach: “I don’t want to see anything hurt the game. I think NIL in high school will, especially at small schools like here and in South Georgia, will be affected. You’re going to get the kids not getting anything saying they’re not going to play. I really think it will hurt small town football. Here at Bryan County, we don’t have a lot of businesses so that good player with no NIL deal people will start recruiting him. A school like us could lose a couple of good players because of NIL and it could tear up your team and season before the season started. I would hate to see NIL for high schools.”

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