10:14 AM ET
Adam RittenbergESPN Senior Writer
- College football reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
- Graduate of Northwestern University.
WWE’s second class of college athletes receiving name, image and likeness agreements includes the first participants in men’s basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and cheer and dance, as well as four from Power 5 football programs.
The 15-member group participating in WWE’s “Next In Line” program will train at the promotion’s performance center in Orlando, Florida, and receive resources in areas such as brand building and media communications. Gable Steveson, the Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion in heavyweight wrestling at Minnesota, headlined WWE’s first NIL class along with Miami basketball twins and social media stars Haley and Hanna Cavinder.
The new group includes Auburn All-America gymnast Derrian Gobourne, Tennessee track and field standout Chandler Hayden, Pac-12 heavyweight wrestling champion Cohlton Schultz and Ole Miss cheer and dance athlete Ali Mattox, who won a world championship with Team USA in 2019.
Illinois tight end Luke Ford, a former ESPN top 100 recruit who began his career at Georgia, headlines the contingent of football players, along with Arizona State fullback Case Hatch, Stanford outside linebacker Thunder Keck and Michigan State tight end Maliq Carr, a transfer from Purdue who also plays for MSU’s basketball team. The class also includes Hampton linebacker KeShaun Moore, WWE’s first NIL signee from an HBCU program. Hayden and Central Michigan basketball player Mikala Hall are among the participants with large social media followings.
WWE started the Next In Line program to identify future superstars and start developing them at younger ages. The promotion has a long history of hiring former college athletes, including former standouts Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Miami football) and College Football Hall of Famer Ron Simmons (Florida State), and current stars Roman Reigns (Georgia Tech football) and Bianca Belair (Tennessee track & field). The average age of the 25 athletes in WWE’s NIL program — 12 women, 13 men — is 21.
The WWE’s newest NIL class will be recognized Monday night at the inaugural NIL summit, held at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. In March, WWE held a tryout for 45 current and former college athletes as part of WrestleMania week in the Dallas area.