‘Building my brand’: Auburn student-athletes excel in freshman year at NIL


AUBURN, Alabama – Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) has changed the game in college athletics, and Auburn continues to be at the forefront of educating, empowering, and maximizing opportunities for student-athletes.

In May 2021, with the launch of SPIRIT, Auburn became one of the first Power Five schools to introduce an NIL program aimed at supporting the total student-athlete experience. Since then, Auburn student-athletes have generated millions of dollars in NIL trades with a near 60-40 split between men and women.

“I had a deal with a local restaurant where I could eat free meals whenever I wanted,” said Walker Kessler, a first-round pick in the NBA draft in June. “Auburn is a massive brand. Traveling all over the country, traveling and playing in all these places, I think I’ve seen at least two Auburn fans in every airport. Just having that name behind you helped me tremendously.

“It helps a lot because somehow someone is connected to Auburn,” added Auburn gymnast Derrian Gobourne. “I feel like it’s been super helpful, especially the people here. They are not afraid to put you in touch with this person or person.

Gobourne, who represented Auburn at the NIL Summit in June, was one of 15 student-athletes nationwide to sign a deal with WWE to join their NIL program, “Next in Line.” The program was created as a way to recruit and develop potential Superstars for WWE through partnerships with college athletes.

“The first time they reached out, I was like, ‘No, that’s not me,'” Gobourne said. “But I just feel like when something happens twice, it’s meant to be in your life. I signed a one-year contract. I don’t have to do anything. I just build my brand for a year and then after they said i could train with them and join their roster, or i could just live my life.


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