How Eagles’ Nakobe Dean embodied the new life of a college football star

Nakobe Dean, a starting cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles, is now one of the most interesting college football players in America. With his mentor’s murder behind him and newfound fame surrounding him, Nakobe has changed from an introverted high schooler to a confident NFL prospect with nothing left to lose.

Nakobe Dean is a player for the Philadelphia Eagles. He has been playing football since he was five years old, and in his first year at college, he became one of the most important players on the team.

How Eagles' Nakobe Dean embodied the new life of a college football star

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This article was first published on December 29, 2021. The Philadelphia Eagles picked Nakobe Dean with the 83rd overall choice in the 2022 NFL Draft.

ATHENS, Georgia — Nakobe Dean’s gaze is fixed on the television above him. The Georgia linebacker is in the center of Pauley’s, a boisterous restaurant in downtown Athens, fresh after football practice and video sessions. The late-November Monday night game is on every screen, but Dean is the big attraction today, the reason everyone is there, dressed in Georgia red and dropping off canned goods at the front of the shop before walking up to say hi and snap a photo.

Despite all of the chaos, Dean is unable to turn off the portion of his brain that is drawn to the ball. Dean keeps a close eye on the TV crew as they break down Tom Brady highlights (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing the New York Giants, who boast two Georgia alums in J.R. Reed and Tae Crowder). He soon finds himself directing the linebacker where to move in the midst of a play.

“When I watch football, I can’t help but wonder, ‘What was meant to happen exactly there?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’” Later that night, Dean remarks. “That instinct is all I have right now.”

Those who have known Dean since he was a child in Horn Lake, Mississippi, would say that it has always been in him. But things have changed since then. Offenses are more intricate. Classes are more difficult. Life is becoming busy. The stakes have increased.

Along with the money, there’s also the possibility. That’s definitely novel, or at the very least unusual. The money has been flowing in plain daylight since the NCAA allowed name, image, and likeness agreements for collegiate athletes in June. The world of NIL has become the Wild West, according to one marketing agency, without any formal monitoring from the NCAA and lax limits varied from state to state.

NIL has given athletes like Dean a new perspective on their collegiate experience. It has been both a difficulty and a chance to navigate it. Players, football or not, have recognized they need a strategy for everything from figuring out where the money comes from to where it goes and how it will be taxed to balancing it with all other necessities.

“When NIL agreements began coming in, my considerations were whether they would allow me to concentrate on football while still allowing me to donate,” Dean explains.

Dean is having an amazing year in Athens as he stands at the start of a new era for collegiate athletics. On the field, he has been one of the finest defenders in the country, winning the Butkus Award, being two games away from a national title, and being projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Off the pitch, the new NIL standards enabled him to carry out the principles instilled in him by his mother, a lifelong community worker.


“THAT’S NO. 17.”

The remarks are said softly by a small child who seems to be attempting not to be discovered. Dean is getting ready to take ten local youngsters, his mother, Neketta, and his girlfriend, Gabby, on a tour of RWDC, a biotechnology center only 10 minutes outside of downtown Athens. Dean, a mechanical engineering student, puts on a neon green hard helmet and tilts it forward just enough to make him seem cooler than everyone else in the room.

Despite the fact that the aim of the trip is for Dean to teach the youngsters about engineering in the hopes of boosting diversity in the profession, Dean is the child in the candy store. Dean checks samples of biodegradable straws and asks one of the company’s founders questions about the process while the buzz of machinery sinks into the background of pipes and large vats. He takes one of the children away and explains how some of the devices operate. You almost get the impression that if Dean had to, he’d be just as happy here as he is on the field.

“He’s a math wizard,” explains Neketta. “This is a youngster who won a sixth-grade arithmetic competition that I had no idea he had entered. When I got his examinations back, 27 out of 27 were accurate. He was already thinking in percentages at the age of eight. He always had the appropriate answer when it came to numbers.”

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In the past, No. 17 might have visited the engineering facility, formed casual relationships, and perhaps started the conversation about an internship program if he got to the NFL. Dean may now do all of those things, as well as consider the idea of investing in the firm in the near future, and initiate and help finance internships for student-athletes right now.

“It’s sort of hard to figure out internships or co-ops if you want to do anything other than play football here,” Dean adds. “So I wanted to make it simpler while also teaching these kids that, although they may want to grow up and play sports right now, there are other ways to succeed if they don’t make it on the field.”

Dean, on the other hand, has arrived. Watching him play football reveals that, although the grass beneath his feet is the same as that of his opponents and his teammates, he is working on an other level entirely. Dean always seems to be in the right place at the right moment, whether by positioning or speed — precisely where the ball is. He has 61 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions, including a pick-six, in 13 games this season. It’s simple for Dean and those around him to draw a line between how his brain operates in the classroom and how it functions on the field because of this seeming omnipresence.

“It’s simply made it easier for me to grasp plan and strategy,” Dean explains. “I was always able to learn the minor things coaches wanted me to perform on particular plays faster than others when I was younger.”

Dean’s high school coach, Brad Boyette, recalls showing up to the annual practice the high school held with eighth-graders from the local middle school and being immediately impressed by Dean’s ability to pick up not just drills, but coverages that would normally take kids at his level a few days of practice.

“Some kids develop early and are physically fit,” Boyette adds, “but there’s no way they can comprehend the playbook, the calls, and everything else that’s going on.” “However, having both at that age has only occurred to me once, and that was with Nakobe.”

Dean was the first ninth-grader to play varsity for Boyette. He could physically compete with 18-year-olds and acquire a mental advantage by seeing the game differently. Dean was a master at deciphering opponents’ plays when Horn Lake advanced to the state championship game that season. He spotted the quarterback’s move on a pivotal play in that game and broke from his position to cover a surprising wheel route throw flawlessly. After that, Boyette questioned him about his decision.

Dean told Boyette, “I didn’t believe the safety would recall that was coming.” “Because we just spoke about it once.”

For the Bulldogs, who had 15 players picked in this year’s draft, Nakobe Dean was a powerful force. Chris Carlson/AP Photo


NEKETTA IS IN her element. There are hundreds of canned goods sprawled out on a table outside of the Boys & Girls Club in Athens from the watch party the night before. Along with turkeys donated by Trader Joe’s and Athens Market through another NIL partnership and a $100 shopping gift card coming directly from Dean’s NIL earnings, they’ll make a package that will be donated to a dozen families in need in the area.

However, everything must first be planned, and Neketta is assuming command, issuing instructions and nearly providing a play-by-play of events. “We have to check the dates on the cans and toss them away if they have dents,” she explains. “That can’t be given to people.”

Dean grins and says, “Coach them up, mother,” from the other end of the table.

Neketta is preparing an assembly line to separate beans from soups and veggies from mac and cheese while others on hand begin sorting through the cans. “We don’t want people taking seven peanut butters home,” Neketta explains. “I’ve organized over a thousand canned food drives. That’s how I roll.”

What Dean does instinctively is what Neketta has done her whole life. Her grandma used to make them volunteer at the very least their time, regardless of their family’s financial situation. Neketta worked long hours as the director of community affairs in Tunica County, Mississippi, after she had her own children and had to raise them as a single mother. This meant that everyone expected Neketta’s children to attend any community gathering. She describes them as “community service youngsters.”

Dean was a member of the local high school football team, and Neketta once arranged a 5K race to bring together police and first responders. Her objectives were twofold: collect funds for the football program and bring cops into a shared environment with a mostly Black football squad.

“Police pulled over Black folks for no reason,” she claims. “As a result, I wanted them to see each other in a new setting.”

The Dean children would not only observe but also participate in their mother’s activities. They’d visit nursing facilities, bringing presents and spending time with the residents. They would volunteer at homeless shelters and participate in neighborhood cleanups, or, in Dean’s case, while he was in high school, at the local youth football program. Dean understood as he grew older that they, too, had benefited from other people’s service while he was younger.

“You don’t become wealthy through community work,” explains Neketta. “You have to be dedicated and unselfish in your efforts.”

So it’s no surprise that when NIL became a reality and offers began pouring in, the Deans saw it as an opportunity to keep doing what they’d been doing since Dean was a youngster, rather than a method to earn money. It began with a few trades before the season, and then increased after Georgia defeated Clemson. Once Georgia reached No. 1 in the country, those numbers more than doubled, and they only continued to rise from there.

The Deans have been able to develop a synergy between the NIL agreements and the things they wish to achieve with the money because to Neketta’s knowledge and preparation. The viewing parties have evolved into mechanisms for obtaining game tickets for local children as well as canned meals for low-income families. Dean was able to sponsor a bed at the Athens homeless shelter for two months because to money raised via arrangements with Georgia Dairy, Eleveo, Athens Market, Publix, and others. And the money from smaller transactions or matching by corporations, including his agency, has enabled Neketta to do even more of what she does best: more.

While Dean was busy with practice and film sessions on the day of the viewing party, Neketta was devising her own strategy, attempting to figure out how they might get the most out of their limited resources. The initial idea was to carry 10 dinners to the shelter from the restaurant that would be hosting Monday night’s watch party. However, when a guy approached her and asked for money to buy blankets ahead of the cold front, she took the remaining money from NIL transactions and, with Dean’s agreement, purchased blankets and Chick-fil-A sandwiches, as well as hygiene items to hand out at the shelter. She was not just giving away items, but also conversing with individuals about their personal lives.

Dean is informed of the outcome of the impromptu giveaway later that night, after practice, video sessions, training room work, and positional meetings. He grins. “My mother claimed I’d have enjoyed it.”


THE FOLLOWING DAY, a few hours before the turkey giveaway, the Deans are back at the homeless shelter. They’re getting a tour of the facility and seeing the bed that Dean is sponsoring. His contribution will help upkeep the bed, food and showers for one individual for two months. At both the homeless shelter and the Boys & Girls Club, staff members are quick to point out how, in the past, athletes from the area have been able to volunteer their time but not their resources in this fashion.

“Without the five to ten NIL transactions he has, none of this would have been conceivable or as effective,” Neketta explains. “For us, [NIL] has been about utilizing this platform to benefit people, not about generating money.”

Dean isn’t alone in this attempt, of course. A lot of athletes around the nation have turned their NIL opportunity into something bigger than themselves. During the Thanksgiving holiday, Michigan running back Blake Corum gave turkeys to families in need. Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa collected $30,000 for the children’s hospital via a NIL contract.

“We were there in the thick of it. I was surrounded by wonderful individuals, and we were able to carry out a strategy “Kayvon Thibodeaux, a former Oregon defensive lineman, says ESPN. Thibodeaux was involved in a number of NIL transactions, including his own NFT and coin. “I believe we raised the bar, and now there will be more possibilities, and athletes will be more confident in seizing them.”

“It’s hardly life-changing money for 99.9% of these students, so they have to realize they have to put half of it aside for taxes,” says Zach Soskin, who started a management business that organizes NIL agreements for college athletes. The educational part has been done on the fly due to the NCAA’s abrupt decision to accept NIL transactions. Some workshops have collaborated with businesses, while others have invited guest lecturers. This entailed contacting an agency that understood Dean and his mother’s strategy and drive. “Nakobe is 20 years old and has no children,” Neketta said. “So, since he’s going to have to pay back most of the NIL money, why not spend it for anything else?”

One of the advantages of NIL, according to Soskin, is that players must learn to handle money at lesser stakes than they would in the NFL. The transition from no pay to millions was cultural shock at times. As more major companies enter the NIL game, boosters get more active, and players become more inventive, Soskin predicts that the prize pool will grow. For the time being, players with some experience, expertise, contacts, and at least some money can make the jump to the professionals.

“I believe what they’re doing is fantastic,” Soskin says, “but it’s worth mentioning that we’re now depending on these 21-year-olds who are earning tens of thousands of dollars to be the ones giving back and doing good.” “What about the remaining boosters and coaches? It’s always amusing when we search for young children to serve as the ideal role models for us all.”


Dean autographs his sponsored bed as they prepare to leave the shelter, and a lady sleeping there begs him to sign two Georgia caps for two girls who were unable to attend. Neketta embraces her. “Believe me when I say this isn’t the last time we’re back here,” she adds.

Dean sees his service as a natural outcome of his current situation. Dean is still wide-eyed at where he finds himself, having walked around Horn Lake with his boyhood buddies wondering about how they’d make it out, or seeing his stipend money at Georgia as more money than he’d ever had.

It’s why he eventually wants to start a scholarship at his high school, and use his engineering degree to make prosthetics for athletes who need them. After all, he was once that kid at the local Boys & Girls Club going on field trips like the ones he took the kids from Athens on, taking everything in and wondering who he could one day be.

The lady from the shelter turns to another guy waiting at the entrance as the Deans go outside. She introduces him to Kobe Dean. The guy beams. “I know.”

“Pickens, Georgia” is a city in the United States. In 2018, Eagles’ Nakobe Dean was drafted by the New York Jets. He went on to play for the NFL team, and now he’s back at his hometown school as an assistant coach. Reference: pickens, georgia nfl draft.

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