Greg Bell Behind The Scenes: Sons of Montezuma’s 1st NIL Partnership

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When news broke that legislation had passed in California allowing student athletes to receive compensation from use of their name, image and likeness, it was only a matter of time that the rest of the country would follow. 

Just how soon was anybody’s guess.

We at Sons of Montezuma believed this could be a great way to create fun and entertaining projects with some of the Aztecs student athletes…someday. So, this year when the NCAA made the declaration to allow this business model for students all across the nation, I must admit it caught us by surprise.

Change from the NCAA to help its student athletes gain for themselves, outside of scholarship restrictions, has long been an issue talked about by almost every sports media outlet. Now that we’ve seen some of the early results from this NIL experiment, it’s truly debatable whether this new policy will pan out as a help or a hinderance to the many G-5 programs. Many of which continually scratch and claw to keep up with their association counterparts. 

If there was one thing we knew here at Sons of Montezuma however, it’s that we weren’t going to wait and find out by someone else’s testimony. We wanted to roll up our pant legs and get a feel for the chilly waters ourselves.

So, it was exciting to see Aztecs running back Greg Bell take to social media to open his NIL partnership availability. 

It’s our hope that you have already listened to our special podcast episode featuring a sit-down interview with Greg Bell. But we would really hope that you made your own purchase of his official, Sons of Montezuma #22 T-shirt for sale now in our online store

From all that we’ve gathered, Greg Bell and Sons of Montezuma are THE first student athlete and apparel company in all of San Diego County to have struck a partnership and developed their own form of clothing together. We are extremely proud to be the first!

And for those still not understanding fully, young Greg Bell absolutely earns the lion share of profits from each T-shirt purchased by you—the REAL San Diego Football fans! What a tremendous way to support one of our own!

All things considered; this was one of the most fun and creative projects I’ve had the chance to work on in my entire marketing & design career. So much that, I’d like to share my impressions about Greg Bell and the process of navigating our first NIL agreement with a San Diego student athlete. 

I reached out to Greg via Instagram, and he was open to have a zoom meet to hear my sales pitch. I still remember the first image of Greg on my computer screen. He was sporting a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up covering most of his face. Lightly pulling the drawstrings to slightly shield his eyes, no doubt protecting himself from the unknown view of who he was going to see across his screen. It made me laugh with a smile and I know that positive reaction helped to quickly lower his guard and the hood over his head.

But as humorous as that first gesture was to me, it was a swift reminder that working with young people is a big responsibility. Young people are so full of promise and eagerness for their future. Greg hearing me out that day was an honest attempt to trust that whoever was on the other side of his screen was there to do right by him. I’m appreciative of that trust.

Greg showed himself to negotiate well. He knew his worth within the structure of our deal. It’s experiences like this, that I fully believe will lead to beneficial disciplines for our student athletes. Now, before a student athlete signs that first professional deal with team ________, they will have already on some level experienced for themselves a business proposal, negotiation process and execution strategy within their college years. And that is what they are here in school for right? To learn how to be a professional.

Together we agreed upon the apparel and podcast creative ideas, within the next two weeks we developed our art works and arrangements, and all in one day we were able to capture photos with the actual t-shirt product and record our podcast interview.

During the actual podcast interview Greg was as cool as they come. He agreed to do a one-hour interview and I ended up choosing McGregor’s Ale House near the new Aztecs Stadium as our location. Sunday mornings during the off season are ideal for quiet time there. Come football season, forget about it. 

He arrived with a camera man following his day in the life story. In between breakfast burrito and chicken tender breaks we conversed for almost two hours and it was a great time. 

If you know anything about Greg’s football journey, we could’ve talked all day.

We recapped his time winning a CIF Championship for Bonita Vista High school–their first in 50 years. We detailed not being able to come to San Diego State out of high school, moving to Yuma to join the JUCO ranks at Arizona Western and inevitably earning National attention and committing to play Nebraska football in the most lucrative conference in College Football, the Big Ten. It’s been a windy road for Greg to finally join the hometown Aztecs.

We covered the freak accident, an eye injury almost ending his career, and soon after the full recovery the COVID-19 global pandemic that almost kept him off the field for two straight seasons. 

After the interview was over, I spent days of my time on the editing room floor. I thought what I had in the conversations was enough. But as I began to dig deeper into all the media that was out there for Greg thru-ought his many stops, I knew I had to feature much of the real audio that captured all of these priceless moments. 

As I watched and listened to all of these highlights that chronicled Greg’s career, I really came to a deeper appreciation for what the young man has overcome in his time.

When I had asked Greg what was that moment for him that he fell in love with the game of football he replied, “My older cousin was playing and I was too young to play. So I used to go to his games all dressed up like I was on his team, but I couldn’t play. So I always used to cry. But seeing him, it made me want to play so much. So that’s what made me real passionate about the game.”

Not many people in their lives are so blessed to pinpoint an exact moment where their passions were awaken so much that they knew exactly what they were meant to do with their time spent here. 

But how often do we as humans find a spark. How often are business ventures or relationships started one day and quit the next. It’s one thing to set forth a plan with good intentions. But it’s another to persevere through challenges. To continue the pursuit, despite our own shortcomings or perhaps factors outside of anything we can ever control. 

Greg has had to rise above so much and take so many detours, the passion of his pursuit is undeniable.

To think about all the stops that he has had to make, there’s been a different head coach at each one of them. Each time a player has to fit to the mold of a new coaches leadership and locker room style, it proves to be a challenge. To trust and accept a new voice of discipline and leadership is not an easy thing for adults to do in the professional world, let alone young adults in a non-paying situation. 

But the one noteworthy factor that truly stood out in my mind was the relationship that he values from his then Bonita Vista high school head coach, Chris Thompson (now Head Coach at Mira Mesa High, San Diego, CA).

He credits Coach Thompson for the guidance in choosing Arizona Western in his pathway back to major D1 football. The two maintain their friendship to this day and he credits Thompson as helping him get to where he is today.

In this new NIL world of College athletics, that high school coach relationship will prove to be an even greater factor in the lives of our student athletes.

Do I know what the future holds for the NIL system in Collegiate athletics? Surely not. But in the end, hopefully this was just the first of many Sons of Montezuma student athlete projects to come.

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by Tom Ables. Photography by Ernie Anderson and others.

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