STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is launching an agency this week to represent college athletes and help them maximize their opportunities under the NCAA's new name, image and likeness legislation. Clifford, 23, is entering his sixth year at Penn State and his fourth year as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback. He already has assembled a team of five employees for Limitless NIL, which is believed to be the first agency founded by a student-athlete to help others with NIL. They've already signed a roster of seven college athletes from three different colleges.
Clifford filed the paperwork to form Limitless NIL with the state of Pennsylvania on Jan. 31, and he and his team have been soliciting clients and brands over the past few months. Clifford's idea came from his own involvement with NIL last year, as he made more than $100,000 but had mixed experiences with professional agencies. He found himself helping guide younger teammates through the space, and this idea formed organically through those experiences.
"It's the agency that I was looking for that I couldn't find," Clifford told ESPN. "It's for the players, by the players. I wanted to do something to leave even more of a legacy than just on the field. And I thought that this was kind of the way that I wanted to go."
Clifford found that larger agencies accustomed to dealing with professional athletes lacked expertise in the college space and did not have the bandwidth to handle the granular details like creating content, posting it at proper times and helping with time management for college athletes.
Brown led the nation in interceptions last season, but he experienced "a little bit of frustration" with the lack of NIL interest in State College. He said he had hoped to "be in a position where I can help family members financially." Clifford briefed Brown on Limitless in the locker room recently, and then Brown invited Clifford over to his house for a longer discussion. Brown signed on shortly after, saying that he'd "trust Sean with my life, basically."
Brown is finalizing his first NIL deal, via Limitless. He's expected to have a custom pizza at Snap Custom Pizza in State College. Brown, who is known by the nickname "Tig" because he bounced around like the cartoon character Tigger as a baby, would debut a "Tig Pie" that would include Brown's favorite toppings -- bacon, sausage and potentially pineapple. (He knows pineapple can be a divisive topping.)
"It's great just to be represented by people who are available, credible and determined," Brown said. "They actually know me and know how I grew up, to now having my own pie. That's my dream come true, to have something named [after me]."
Another potential deal is for Penn State basketball walk-on Ishaan Jagiasi, a client who happens to have more than 305,000 TikTok followers. Brad Kraut, a Penn State senior who is the company's director of brand relations, said that they are in talks to get Jagiasi a $1,800 deal over three months to post about Daily Remedy, which makes post-workout bath salts. (Limitless plans to take a 15% cut on the NIL deals.)
Figuring out a way to exploit the large social media following of Jagiasi is one way that illuminates how Limitless NIL can work, as it can take lower-profile athletes and dedicate the time and resources to promoting them and finding deals. It also has the infrastructure in place to help produce and distribute clean content.
"A lot of bigger agencies lack the strategy for content creation and the marketing specialty, what athletes should be posting day in and out," Clifford said. "How they should be building their brand and interacting with community."
Along with the director of brand relations, Clifford's team also has a chief athlete officer (former Nittany Lion Aeneas Hawkins), chief peer officer (Trevor Robinson), a director of graphics (Drew Britt) and a director of development (Liam Clifford, Sean's younger brother and a freshman wide receiver at PSU). Three of the five employees are college students.
Sean Clifford founded the company on three pillars: talent representation, brand and content creation, and financial literacy. He said a perk of signing with Limitless NIL is access to financial advisers at Beacon Pointe, a financial advisory firm.
"All the athletes that sign with us get private wealth management the same way that a multimillionaire would, even if they have nothing in their bank account," Clifford said. "So it's a cool financial education."
There are other areas the company will focus on, including helping athletes with time management and educating them on building their social media followings to set them up if they play professionally. There's also an internship program, which will give college students experience and help aid athletes with support in their day-to-day dealings with brands.
Clifford has limited classroom duties this spring and fall, which has allowed him to dedicate all the time necessary to football and work on Limitless NIL. He has already graduated with a major in public relations and is working toward completing a second major in broadcast journalism, for which he has only four credit hours this fall.
There's no lack of ambition for what Limitless NIL could become, as Clifford named the company that for a reason. Hawkins, who is the son of longtime NFL defensive back Artrell Hawkins, said that he and Kraut are embarking on a recruiting road trip to meet with athletes at nearby schools -- Ohio State, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Pitt and West Virginia.
Hawkins medically retired from Penn State after dealing with injuries and said that growing up in a family of NFL players -- his uncle, grandfather and multiple cousins also played in the NFL -- gave him an interest in the lives of athletes. He said he's slated to graduate in August with a degree in broadcast journalism, but he has found a passion in helping athletes.
"The thing that sold me on it more than anything was [Sean's] clear ambition to help the athlete earn what they deserve to earn," Hawkins said. "Anytime we're talking about the athlete, that's going to be of interest to me."
After generations of the NCAA limiting players from making money, it's a sudden juxtaposition to having an athlete leading a company to help make others make money. Clifford said he has worked in concert with Penn State's compliance office to ensure he's following all guidelines.
Penn State coach James Franklin expressed "excitement" for his players to be able to take advantage of this "new era" and "grow as entrepreneurs."
"Sean has demonstrated great passion, interest and creativity early on in this NIL space and has gained invaluable business experiences," Franklin said. "He has taken advantage of the NIL opportunities presented to him, but he has also taken it upon himself to educate his teammates on the impact NIL can have. We are supportive of what Sean has done with NIL to this point, and I hope to see more of our student-athletes take advantage of similar opportunities in the future, just as Sean has."