‘I could hear the tears in her eyes’: For BYU walk-ons like Talmage Gunther and Nick Billoups, new NIL deal is a life-changer
Utah-based Built Brands is paying the tuition for 36 BYU football walk-ons and $1,000 to each scholarship player if they will represent the company
Talmage Gunther says he could “hear the tears” in his wife’s eyes as he delivered the good news Thursday afternoon via telephone before the BYU football team’s seventh practice of preseason training camp.
The walk-on receiver and special teams ace from Cedar Hills who prepped at Lone Peak High before a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Zimbabwe had just been told, along with 35 other walk-ons, that they would be paid the equivalent of a one-year tuition scholarship if they would sign an NCAA-allowed name, image and likeness (NIL) deal with Built Brands LLC, a Utah-based company that produces energy products, including the popular Built Bar.
Video posted on BYU football’s social media accounts of Gunther and other BYU players getting the news from Built Brands co-founder Nick Greer went viral and received millions and millions of page views in the first 24 hours.
“It was special,” Gunther said Friday in a news conference after practice that also included Greer, head coach Kalani Sitake, former walk-on Tyler Allgeier and newcomer Nick Billoups, a quarterback who transferred from Utah and will be a walk-on in 2021.
“I just gave (Brooke) a call and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I just got paid enough for tuition and so did all the rest of the walk-ons.’ She paused. I couldn’t hear anything on the phone for a few seconds, but I could hear the tears in her eyes, and then her saying she was so happy and proud of me and grateful that all of this has shown a reward now.”
“All of this” is Gunther, an all-state QB at Lone Peak, trying to stick with his childhood dream of playing football for BYU without having his schooling paid for. Like many walk-ons, he’s had to work multiple jobs in the offseason, scrimp on expenses and rely on financial support from his parents or other family members.
“I just gave (his wife, Brooke) a call and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I just got paid enough for tuition and so did all the rest of the walk-ons.’ She paused. I couldn’t hear anything on the phone for a few seconds, but I could hear the tears in her eyes, and then her saying she was so happy and proud of me and grateful that all of this has shown a reward now.” — BYU walk-on Talmage Gunther on the NIL deal he and other walk-ons signed with Build Brands, an energy bar maker
The Gunthers also have a baby son, Drew, who turned 1 the day before the big announcement that will certainly change the lives of all the walk-ons. BYU’s scholarship players can earn $1,000 each for representing the company — the first sign of which was them wearing practice helmets with Built stickers on them — so in essence all 123 players on the team (when the roster is finalized later this month) will benefit.
Talmage Gunther has worked for the real estate development firm Rockworth (he’s a finance major) in Holladay, Utah, and Central Trade & Transfer in Pleasant Grove, while Brooke Gunther has taught swimming lessons at her parents’ pool and worked at Gatehouse Furniture and Design in Orem.
“We did whatever we had to do to make it work,” Gunther said.
Their lives just got a bit easier, thanks to the recent NCAA rule change that allows college athletes to make money off their NIL, a change that began July 1.
“Honestly, for me, I am happy to put in the time at work so I can pay for it, because I love being here,” Talmage said. “For her, it is a little harder because she doesn’t get to see the rewards of being at practice every day and seeing what that development looks like and feels like.
“That was honestly my first thought,” he continued. “It was like, ‘Oh, thank heavens. My wife is going to be so happy. She doesn’t have to stress as much about the financial side.’”
Neither do the parents of Billoups, who is from San Clemente, California. Billoups’ mother saw the social media posts — he’s the player first introduced by Greer in the viral video — and was “thrilled” to learn some of the costs of having her son play for BYU would be taken away.
“It feels great,” Nick Billoups said, who said his phone and social media accounts have blown up in since the video was made public.
“I am still going to ask them for some money,” he said, laughing. He said his parents have already spent thousands of dollars to get him to this point in his college career, and now perhaps some of that money will go to his 13-year-old brother Noah, a basketball player.
“It was a wild, crazy moment I will never forget,” Nick Billoups said.
Allgeier, who arrived at BYU from Fontana, California, as a walk-on running back a few years ago, was put on scholarship in January 2020. Getting some extra money to endorse products such as Built Bar — Allgeier also has a deal with Balmshot — “takes a lot of stress off your back,” he said.
Gunther said that when the NIL rule change came about, he didn’t think he would benefit much from it because he’s not a high-profile player like Allgeier and others.
But Sitake held a team meeting and told the players that collectively they “all have a brand, BYU football,” that is more valuable than any one individual’s brand.
“He kinda made a promise that he was going to take care of all of us, but he especially singled out walk-ons and said, ‘We are going to take care of you guys, too,’” Gunther said.
Because the walk-ons are receiving more money, they have to attend a few more events to promote Built Brands than the other players, duties that Billoups and Gunther said they would gladly accept.
Sitake said after the announcement, he was contacted by dozens of people — mostly through text messages — from other coaches around the country to former players, former walk-ons and even some BYU players who are currently trying to make it in the NFL.
“It just seemed like a great connection” to align with Built Brands, which already had a contract to provide energy products to the school, Sitake said.
His favorite flavor is Coconut, followed closely by Rocky Road. Allgeier prefers strawberry, while Gunther likes cookie dough.
Greer, who is a BYU alum, said the agreement is a “multiyear deal,” but didn’t offer many specifics, saying that it something the attorneys can figure out. He said his long relationship with Sitake helped seal the deal.
“We are all learning from Kalani, which I love,” Greer said.
The benefactor said when the NCAA began talking about changing its rules to allow student-athletes to be compensated for the use of their NIL, his company “knew we wanted to do something with it.”
“I hope we change a little bit of the conversation,” he said.
For 36 BYU walk-ons, they already have.