The most prolific running back in UW history sold fruit at farmers markets to make ends meet.
Granted, he had two supportive parents, plus cost of attendance stipends from the NCAA. But in Seattle, especially, rent got steep (not to mention gas and groceries). “You always just barely had enough,” he said.
Which is how a perennial All-Pac-12 performer traded pigskins for peaches during Seattle summers.
“I worked for Bill’s Fruits,” said Myles Gaskin, now a third-year running back for the Miami Dolphins. “I sold fruit on the weekends at the farmers markets in Edmonds and Ballard. It was a fun job. It helped me out a lot, so I’m very thankful.”
College football, meanwhile, was not a financially fruitful endeavor. At least, not for Gaskin, who became the first Pac-12 player (and the second nationally) to rush for 1,200 yards in four separate seasons; who set school records for career rushing yards (5,323), career total touchdowns (62), career rushing touchdowns (57) and 100-yard games (26); who carried his hometown Huskies to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2016, a Rose Bowl berth in 2018 and a pair of Pac-12 titles; who earned records and honors and precious little cash.
Last week, the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors adopted an interim policy to suspend amateurism rules related to name, image and likeness — allowing athletes to profit off of autograph sales, sponsored social media posts or ads, personal YouTube/Twitch streaming channels, training lessons and camps, speaking engagements, personal merchandising, endorsement deals and more.
In a phone interview last week, Gaskin acknowledged that “it’s going to change the landscape of college sports forever.”
The fruit-slinger-turned-NFL-starter understands that fact much better than most.
“It hit me my sophomore year,” he said. “We had done those fan days and you think about all these people who come in here and you sign all these jerseys, all these cards, whatever it may be, for an hour and a half straight. I come back and hop in my beat-up Toyota and get back to the apartment I’m barely making enough to pay for. I realized then that people are profiting off of our games, our sports, the sport that we love, and we weren’t seeing a dime of it.
“Right then, it was right before my sophomore season, I was like, ‘Damn, that’s strange.’ You get used to it, because you don’t know anything else at the time.”
Kelsey Plum knows the feeling. In 2015, the 5-foot-8 flame-thrower from Poway, California, carried her Huskies to unprecedented heights during her junior season — reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history. A year later, she netted a career-high 57 points on Senior Night to become the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. Before being selected by the San Antonio Stars with the first pick of the 2017 WNBA draft, she set NCAA records for single-season scoring (1,109 points) and career free throws (912) as well.
In four blisteringly successful seasons in Seattle, Plum achieved a level of local popularity virtually unequaled by anyone else in her sport.
But rent was still due at the end of the month.
“It’s tough,” she said in a phone interview last week. “There were definitely times, especially the last couple years of my career, where we’d be selling out arenas on the road, nationally televised games, people wearing my number in the stands on shirts, but they can’t put my name on it.
“For me, I really just tried to take it as, it’s a stage in your life. Now I’ve moved on to be a professional and I can make money off of what I do. But Seattle rent is not cheap. I was paying like $900 a month for a room, and I’m trying to pay for WiFi. I’m trying to pay for gas in my car. There were some days where I’d look in my bank account and say, ‘Dang.’ I do think I would have for sure — whether that’s locally or nationally — made some good money (if NIL rules were in place at the time). But here we are.”
And, to be clear, Plum is not complaining — nor is she directing blame to UW. The Las Vegas Aces guard and Tokyo Olympian acknowledged the need for NIL laws, particularly for women who won’t make millions off professional contracts.
But she also appreciated the opportunities and resources provided by her alma mater.
“Some of the best years of your life are being a student-athlete,” Plum said. “From my experience, the University of Washington has done so much for me. I was never hungry. I was probably fat, to be honest. They fed me well; I was a little too chubby.
“But I always had the resources academically. They were super supportive. All the facilities, weight room, the medical providers, doctors, it was world class. So when you step into the real world you don’t have a lot of those same luxuries. As a professional athlete I have to handle a lot of that stuff through my own pocket. So I never felt like I wanted for things that I wasn’t able to get in college. A lot of times I think we take that for granted.”
Jake Browning shares a similar stance. Before he quarterbacked Washington to a CFP appearance in 2016, earning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors along the way, the early enrollee freshman worked security at Sounders games. On Aug. 8, 2015 — less than a month before he started as a true freshman in the Huskies’ season opener against Boise State — Browning sold Taylor Swift T-shirts at a concert at CenturyLink Field.
That fall, the NCAA began distributing cost of attendance stipends to college athletes nationwide.
But there were more significant steps to be made.
“I always felt like with the support at UW, they did whatever they could to support you,” Browning said. “So when I say I was doing this or that to try to make some money, that’s not a reflection of (UW athletics director) Jen Cohen or coach Pete (Chris Petersen) or anybody. They’re not allowed to help you with that kind of stuff. But if a new rule came out where they could give us some more food or something, they did it right away.
“I was there for a few quarters (before cost of attendance rules were implemented) where they could give us a bagel but they couldn’t give us cream cheese, because that constituted a meal. With some of the (NCAA) rules, you’re like, this makes no sense. Those are my frustrations, when there’s a lack of common sense.”
With the overdue arrival of the NIL Era, common sense may have (finally) surfaced in college sports.
And while some will profit more than most, some also need that support much more than others.
“With cost of attendance I was never starving or completely broke. I was pretty on top of my money,” said Browning, now a third-year quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. “But what really gets people in trouble, just like anyone else, you have a car break down and then this is going to be $1,200 to fix. Well you don’t have $1,200, so now you just don’t have a car.
“One of the good things about sports is you have so many different backgrounds and people with different stories. I was pretty fortunate that if that would have come up I could have called my dad and we would have been able to figure something out. But I don’t think everybody had that luxury.”
And in the NIL Era’s infancy, it’s unclear just how far the money will go. In the last week, UW cornerback Trent McDuffie announced partnerships with Yoke Gaming and Cameo; left tackle Jaxson Kirkland partnered with Barstool Sports; wide receiver Jalen McMillan signed with sports agency Playmaker Management; punter Triston Brown and long snapper Jaden Green began jointly offering “premier punting and long snapping coaching in the Seattle area,” per their Instagram account; and offensive linemen Troy Fautanu and Gaard Memmelaar, and wide receivers Ja’Lynn Polk, Taj Davis and Giles Jackson all entered into various apparel deals.
On July 3, Dick’s Drive-Ins went as far as to playfully tweet: “If we signed @UW_Football players to a #NIL deal it would be with the linebackers, defense and offensive line. Gift certificates for all players that are 250 (pounds) and above. Maybe charity donations for sacks + pancakes. What do you think (redshirt freshman outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls)?!? #SmallsBurgerGang #GoDawgs”
Still, Dick’s deluxes aside, the ultimate impact of NIL legislation remains unclear.
“You can say that I would have made a lot of money in Seattle, but nobody really knows,” Browning said. “It’s a new market that’s just been created. It’s almost like crypto (currency) a little bit. Nobody really knows what’s going on. They’re just throwing some money at it and seeing where it stands in five years, and then everybody adjusts to what the market is based on that.
“Am I happy that (UW sophomore QB) Dylan Morris can hopefully get some money in his pocket? Absolutely. I’m sure he works hard and all that. But I’m a spectator in this, too. I have no idea (what will happen).”
But these rules may also allow for much more than money. Last fall, as a preferred walk-on quarterback at UW, Jaden Sheffey attended practices and classes, before working most nights at a restaurant from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. The former Woodinville High School and George Fox (Ore.) University QB said that “sometimes people are put in those positions where you have to provide for yourself and continue to make your dreams and goals happen. That was the position I was in.”
Sheffey earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications and a minor in marketing in two years at George Fox, before transferring to UW and adding a post-bachelor’s degree in social sciences this summer. After wrapping up his college career, he’s currently considering options in the job market.
And he says the NIL rules can benefit more than star athletes with endorsement deals.
Even a walk-on who works weeknights can take advantage of the added exposure.
“I think the most important thing from this is athletes need to really use this time to build a career and build a network for themselves outside of their sport. It goes deeper than just football,” Sheffey said. “Because inevitably, it all ends for everybody at some point. So being able to have a backup plan and options and other opportunities outside of your sport and setting yourself up for your career beyond the game is going to be what’s most important, even for the walk-ons.
“I think it’s a great time to expand those connections and relationships beyond the game, so that when you decide to be done playing or things happen where you have to be done, you know you’re prepared to go into the work force and you don’t have to struggle to look for opportunities and jobs.”
For the time being, at least, Gaskin has a job in professional sports.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally miss the farmer’s market.
“Yeah, for sure,” said the Lynnwood native, when asked if people occasionally recognized him while buying peaches and plums. “They were buying fruit and showing love. Those were the days, man.”