How a college dropout became a go-to jeweler for NFL draft prospects

CINCINNATI -- The months between the end of a college football season and the NFL draft are filled with preparations for making the leap to the pros.

There are agents to sign with, combines to prepare for and images to be curated throughout the whole process.

For many players in the pre-draft build-up, jeweler Leo Frost has become an integral part of those plans. Projected first-round picks Ja'Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, Jaylen Waddle and Patrick Surtain II are among those looking to make a small splash before embarking on their pro careers.

Frost delivered the pre-draft chain for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow last year and eventually created a bigger version for him later in the summer. Frost also worked with Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson in 2020.

It's a big payoff for a 24-year-old who dropped out of the University of Houston in 2020, just a few credits shy of a degree in supply chain management, to pursue his dream.

"I didn't want a Plan B," Frost said. "I just wanted to be a guy that was going to give it everything that I got and see where it took me."

Frost, whose real name is Arsh Khusro, said he got into the business in college when he spent around $2,200 on a chain that cost only $550. He saw an opportunity for someone who did quality, honest work to build a lucrative career.

That sense of entrepreneurship runs in the family. His father, Andy Khusro, started an appliance company in 2002 that struggled to find its footing in the market. After a few unsuccessful products, he found a couple were big hits -- a tortilla maker and a wet-dry hybrid spice grinder.

Even as a child, Frost carried the same level of independence that Khusro had in his younger days. When Frost needed money to start his jewelry endeavor, he asked his dad only for help with working up a contract and not an initial loan.

And as frustrating as it was for Khusro to watch Frost drop out of college with just a couple of classes left, he always sensed his son was built for something unique.

"It's hard for an Indian parent to see his son is not graduating and leaving at the 11th hour," Khusro said. "But I knew that Arsh is not that kind of person that would make an academic career. He would want to be independent and would do something different than anybody else."

Frost took online classes, studied at night to learn how to make the pieces he admired and then applied what he learned as much as possible. Some of Frost's early clients were his fellow college students at Houston -- Ed Oliver, now a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, and Corey Davis, who played basketball for the Cougars.

The run of athletes started once he built a relationship with renowned Houston jeweler Iceman Nick, who has been in the business for more than 20 years and has welterweight boxing champion Errol Spence Jr. among his clients.

Frost said he walked into Nick's shop one day in 2020 and asked for an apprenticeship. Frost said he wanted to be there all the time and soak up whatever he could.

Frost delivered the pre-draft chain for Burrow, the top overall pick in last year's draft who was gifted a gold chain with a diamond-covered No. 9 pendant by the rapper Boosie Badazz.

Within six months, Nick said, Frost had started to develop his own relationships with players around the league. The key? For Frost, it's not a typical business-client dynamic.

"He hangs out with them," Nick said. "They're more like friendships. They'll come stay at his place. Even the younger NFL players, they come in town and stay with him at his house."

That familiarity sparked his foothold in the NFL. The relationship with Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Bobby Evans initially started with an Instagram message Evans sent Frost back when Evans was still playing at Oklahoma.

"He was young in the game and he was communicating with me very well," Evans said. "At first I was skeptical because I didn't know much about jewelry and all that. And I ain't gonna lie, he's been helping me figure out some of the stuff."

Frost has made it a point to foster those relationships and make sure players know they're valued. After Burrow got a bigger version of the Boosie chain last year, Frost sent Burrow's family a custom set of No. 9 pendants to wear on game days. Burrow's mom, Robin, sported hers when she took the photo for a cardboard cutout inside Paul Brown Stadium for Burrow's first game.

Some of the pieces Frost crafts can get pricy. He said one draft piece cost $45,000 while another setup ran around $110,000. Those, however, tend to be the more expensive purchases.

"Most of these guys don't go crazy," Frost said. "There's an interpretation that a lot of these guys go out and spend like three hundred, four hundred thousand [dollars]. That's not going on. These guys reward themselves fairly, and some of these guys don't even touch their NFL money."

When the Bengals drafted receiver Tee Higgins last year, the second-round pick wore a chain made by another jeweler named ZoFrost with a diamond-crusted "GV" pendant on it. It represents Higgins' neighborhood of Gamble Valley near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Higgins said he wanted to wear it on draft night because being one of the first to make it to the NFL from the area was a big moment for him.

"I've been wanting this chain, this piece right here, for a long time," Higgins said on draft night in 2020. "And being able to get it, it just means a lot. A lot of the guys where I'm from, they're happy for me. I'm just glad I can call Gamble Valley home."

During this week's draft, Frost expects to see many of his designs worn when the nation's top football prospects officially become professionals. In 10 years, Frost doesn't expect to be doing business with draft picks.

Instead, he'll build on the foundation of the past few years as they all continue to develop in their respective careers. By then, some of his early clients could end up winning Super Bowls.

"I'll be very happy for them because I've literally seen them since the day they were in the league," Frost said. "From day one in the league, we locked in. I've been so lucky."