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RAISING THE STAKES
Whenever some college kid asks me how he can become an agent, I tell him, "Go get tight with a player and serve him up as leverage to get a job [with an agenting firm]." The bottom line is that no agent is going to work with you unless you bring something to the table that he doesn't have.
I had a skill—I could recruit all the big schools on the West Coast—and I needed to find an agent who valued that. Gary Wichard was one of the biggest around, the guy who represented Brian Bosworth, Keith Brooking, Jason Taylor and others. But even though Gary's company, Pro Tect Management, was in Pacific Palisades, Calif., overlooking the ocean, he had almost no West Coast clients.
I reached out to him at the 2000 Senior Bowl. Eventually, Gary recognized what I could bring to the table, and we agreed to a contract that paid me 25% of the commission on any player we signed from any school in the Pacific or Mountain time zones except Utah, because Gary had an in at that program. The deal was less than the 50-50 split I had with Doc, but I had gotten married and was looking to provide for my family, and I thought Gary could help me become the agent I wanted to be.
Immediately, Gary told me that he recruited differently and that the Wild West way I learned under Doc wasn't going to fly. He said I needed to be "reprogrammed." There would be no more partying with players, no more paying players. That was music to my ears.
Much of how I recruited with Gary was similar to before: cold calls, going to schools, introducing myself to players and getting close to them and their families. The difference now was that I had something special to sell: Gary and his client list.
Gary was a master in front of kids. If I got him in a room with a prospect and he made his presentation, we had a great shot at signing the player. Gary put together what he called a Game Plan for each prospect he recruited. Each Game Plan came in a large bound book that contained, among other things, information on how Gary had improved his clients' draft stock over the years. Of course, he left out his clients who fell in the draft, but the college players bought it. At one point in our presentation, Gary would hold up the Game Plans for two players from the previous year's draft, one in each hand. One was for a player who signed with him, and one was for a kid who didn't and was drafted lower. "Next year, what hand do you want your Game Plan to be in?" he would say. It was brilliant.
Gary also used his contacts in the media to help him recruit. In 2000, before a meeting with Stanford defensive lineman Willie Howard, Gary arranged for ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper to call. Gary and I were talking to Willie in Gary's office when Gary's phone rang, and he put it on speakerphone.
"Viper, how are you?" Gary said. That's what he called Mel, Viper or Vipe. "Viper, I'm sitting here with the best defensive lineman in college football. Do you know who that is?"
"You must be with Willie Howard," Mel said.