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The NIL Revolution | A Star Tribune series examining how the name, image and likeness era is transforming college sports:

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Sneakers for everybody.

Fried chicken for lunch and profit.

A haircut just like the pros get.

The name, image and likeness (NIL) era is underway in high school sports, and the payoffs come in many forms.

So do the adjustments. NIL's time arrived suddenly, and it's changing fast.

NIL's impact is as simple and seemingly innocent as the basketball team showing up for the state tournament in new shoes because one of the players happens to be among the nation's best. But a court ruling barely a month ago could lead to something less innocent: the best high school athletes sifting through offers to find the highest bidder as they pick a college.

The high school scene takes its lead from colleges, where a Supreme Court ruling in 2021 tore apart NCAA practices by making it possible for athletes to be compensated for lending their fame, often by appearing in advertisements or endorsing a product on social media.

The Minnesota State High School League reacted in 2022 with a set of rules. A week later, Minnesota had what was touted then as its first high school NIL deal, between Bayliss Flynn, a goalkeeper for Edina, and TruStone Financial.


Four of the five players on the All-Metro boys basketball team are aligned with Akway's Sports Barbershop. The Twin Cities' top girls hockey player is touting a fitness facility and promoting athletic apparel made from recycled materials. A boys basketball standout represents Dave's Hot Chicken and a health clinic. A girls basketball star linked to New Balance got her team outfitted with fresh sneakers for state.

The Star Tribune asked high school athletes and those around them about the impact of the NIL era. Here's what we learned:

The barber is in

When Akeem Akway called back, he was getting ready to leave for an appointment. Karl-Anthony Towns needed a haircut.

When KAT needs a cut, the call goes to Akway's Sports Barbershop. Akeem Akway is proud of that. He's known for that.

He decided not to limit himself to that.

These days the Akway's Sports Barbershop Instagram account shows a photo of Jackson McAndrew, Wayzata basketball star and the Metro Player of the Year, getting done high and tight. Three other members of the All-Metro team, Casmir Chavis of Park Center, Daniel Freitag of Breck and Isaiah Johnson-Arigu of Totino-Grace, have ties to the barbershop. Hopkins' Anthony Smith Jr. is on that Instagram page, showing off his razored finish. Teammate Jayden Moore is featured there, too.

They get haircuts, and Akway gets credit on social media as their barber.

That's not just a change in the hair care industry. It's the way of the world in high school athletics now, and Akway knew he wanted to be involved.

"I cut the Timberwolves' hair," he said. "It's only right that I do the high school guys."

They have plenty in common beyond the love of a good haircut.

"Basketball is the main thing that connects us," Akway said. "The topic is still basketball."

They'll find you

An NIL contract was never the intent for Owen Egge and his father, James.

A highly regarded sophomore wide receiver from St. Michael-Albertville, Owen Egge ended the 2023 season as the team's leading receiver with 30 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns.

Catches he didn't make worried his father, who records Owen's workouts and noticed that when Owen made a mistake running his route, it was occasionally accompanied by a dropped pass.

"Owen has ADHD, so what was happening was when he didn't do something right, he was still thinking about the mistake and he'd lose his concentration. So we wanted to address that," James said.

Owen keeps nutrition among his priorities and knew to consider that.

"I think to be top-notch at anything … you have to be really consistent in your training and your practice," he said.

So Owen turned to an all-natural performance supplement. "I could tell it was working right away," he said.

James raved about the results in an online forum. The company, The Root Brands of Tennessee, noticed.

"They approached us," James Egge said. "It was a little shocking to us at first, because I didn't know it was something you could do at the high school level."

After checking with the coach and activities director at St. Michael-Albertville, the Egges and The Root Brand made a deal. It pays Owen about $250 a month, plus a percentage of revenue from sales at

"A lot of people ask about it and if it really works, and they ask my for samples," said Owen, who will play for Stillwater next season as a result of a family move. "And not just football players. Not even just athletes."

The money matters, his dad said.

"Owen doesn't have to take a job at, like, the hardware store," James said. "And he goes through a lot of equipment. He's always wearing out gloves, and they can be expensive."

Everybody's invited

Minnetonka's Aaliyah Crump is ranked by ESPN as the nation's No. 6 girls basketball recruit in the Class of 2025. That led Klutch Athletics by New Balance, a sportswear brand, to make her its first high school athlete and first female representative in December. This puts Crump in special company. Klutch Athletics is the product of Rich Paul, agent for LeBron James.

All of which explains the New Balance shoes Crump and teammates sported on the way to the Class 4A state championship in mid-March.

If Crump, a first-team All-Metro pick, has her way, it will also explain her presence someday teaching youngsters to do what she does. She's already feeling like paying this forward.

"I want to set up a foundation to give back to the community," Crump said. "I would also like to run a camp for kids."

In the meantime, she's perhaps Minnesota's most sought-after high school athlete, wanted wherever college basketball is played. She understands her position and the chances she'll have to score via NIL.

"There are a lot of opportunities for me," Crump said.

Opportunity for girls abound, actually. Pliable Marketing, based in Maine, links up athletes and NIL opportunities. It represents 35 athletes nationally, and six of them are girls or women's hockey players in Minnesota.

Ella Boerger poses for a photo taken by Kylie Macziewski during an NIL photo shoot with Wings Financial.
Ella Boerger poses for a photo taken by Kylie Macziewski during an NIL photo shoot with Wings Financial.


Stillwater's Josie St. Martin, the Metro Player of the Year, is on board with Pliable and has deals as a brand ambassador with Altius Performance, a training facility in Stillwater, and SEAAV Athletics, which makes athletic apparel from recycled materials. Ella Boerger, who played for Andover in high school and is at St. Thomas now, worked with Pliable to become the face of Slate Milk, Ignite energy bars and Wings Financial Credit Union.

Pliable CEO Greg Glynn said it's no accident his company works with women and girls. He calls NIL opportunities the "best thing to happen to female sports since Title IX."

"Schools benefit from having athletes who are more marketable," he said.

What we don't know

Change has been rapid in the NIL realm. Perhaps the biggest change for high school athletes is just now developing.

A federal judge ruled in late February that the NCAA must stop enforcing NIL restrictions in recruiting. This means it's suddenly allowed for NIL offers to be part of recruiting packages. Colleges can't offer the deals themselves; that's still banned. But "collectives," groups led by boosters of college programs, can show recruits the money.

Does this mean the schools with the wealthiest boosters will be the ones with the most trophies?

Freitag, who has signed to play at Wisconsin, wonders.

"It can be a good thing as well as a very bad thing," he said. "It's good for the student-athlete. But how is anybody going to catch up on the college level?"

Gophers linebacker Cody Lindenberg, who played for Anoka in high school, puts the pressure on college programs to keep integrity in play.

"Coaches have got to understand whether or not players are going to leave for more money or what players really want nowadays," he said. "Are you looking at high schoolers wondering if they want to come here because you have a lot of money, or because they truly understand your culture and what you stand for on or off the field? I think within the next few years … things will start to settle down and people will understand what they really want out of college football in this day and age."

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