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Kody Epps is putting BYU’s NIL opportunities to work

BYU receiver Kody Epps runs downfield during game against Utah State Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Provo, Utah.
BYU receiver Kody Epps runs downfield during game against Utah State Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Provo, Utah. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Kody Epps is all business. The BYU junior receiver is among the new faces who has been admitted into BYU’s MBA program. He wants to be a businessman and he believes football and its accompanying NIL opportunities are going to help get him there. His first big move is Saturday when he tees up the Kody Epps Invitational golf tournament at Sleepy Ridge Golf Club in Utah County.

Every time a dude does a rep, I try to give him a high-five or tap him on the shoulder. Those things add up to where people know you care about them.”

BYU receiver Kody Epps

“I think this is the best way to bring people together, to network and to get eyes on the brand,” Epps told the “Y’s Guys” podcast this week. His brand is the Sonny Golf Club, a company he formed with Jared and Mahonry Chichia. The company sells, among other things, golf ball markers that are magnetically attached to a necklace.

Tutored by his undergrad business classes at BYU and with support from the Royal Blue Collective, Epps is learning a new playbook that will remain relevant long after his last touchdown catch.

“I think NIL is in a space right now where it’s all about liquid cash — how much can I get, which is understandable. If you play (your sport) at a high level (you) should be compensated,” Epps said. “(Royal Blue) partnering with me on Sonny Golf had nothing to do with cash. It was about helping develop my brand and my business that I’m trying to get off the ground right now.”

Epps and Sonny Golf organized Saturday’s event. They sold the tee times, collected the sponsors and prizes, and worked to spread the word. They also brought in a charity — 5 Star Legacy, which will receive some of the proceeds to provide food and books to children in need.

“Them (Royal Blue) allowing me to step into this entrepreneurial space and allow me to have a head start with them backing me has been amazing,” Epps said. “After this golf tournament, I will have a reference point to say, ‘If you are going to come to BYU, yes, you can make money to spend at the mall. But Royal Blue backed me on trying to start my own brand and my own company so I can better develop my life and better develop myself for my future self.’”

Head coach Kalani Sitake will be in the field for Saturday’s tournament where a hole-in-one on a certain par-three hole can produce free steaks for a year from Texas Roadhouse. Seeing what a player can do with NIL support in this fashion is how Sitake believes the Cougars can remain competitive. It’s not about handing a player a bag of money; it’s about providing financial support while they are at BYU and a game plan for long after they are gone.

The BYU experience

Epps arrived at BYU in 2020 as a newcomer to the campus culture. Four years later, after what he describes as “a maturation process,” the Los Angeles native feels very much at home in Provo.

“It’s been about growing and embracing the culture rather than seeing it from the perspective of ‘That’s not what I’m a part of’ but rather, ‘How can I be a part of that’ and create my own swagger and bring my own energy to it,” he said.

During his BYU career, Epps has caught 65 passes for 765 yards and scored six touchdowns while battling through several injuries. As he has grown and developed, both on and off the field, his leadership role has also expanded.

“I enjoy opening things up for this offense. Big plays are amazing. Having great catches or touchdowns are pretty cool, but I love when we go into the film room and I have a big block that sets up a big run for LJ (Martin) or I catch a route that gets us a first down and the next play we throw a bomb down the field to Kebu (Keanu Hill),” Epps said. “Doing those little things to help everybody else push the ball down the field, and when I get my cherries — I love that too.”

President Epps?

Off the field, Epps is just as focused. When asked who among his teammates will most likely be president of the United States, defensive back Micah Harper said, “Kody Epps.” When quarterback Jake Retzlaff was asked who among the receiving corps is most likely to be a United States senator, again, it was “Kody Epps.”

“I think that is one of my favorite compliments that I’ve ever received, and I don’t even know if that’s a compliment at this point and time,” Epps laughed. “But I think it’s pretty dope that my teammates said that about me.”

Such high marks stem from the way the receiver acts among his teammates.

“Coach Kalani talks all the time about physical touch. Every time a dude does a rep, I try to give him a high-five or tap him on the shoulder. Those things add up to where people know you care about them, and they can feel that,” Epps said. “A lot of times we get caught up in the funk of our lives and what’s going on. I try to do my best to block out my personal struggles and as soon as I hit the locker room, it’s time to smile with the boys and bring everybody together.”

Retzlaff or Bohanon?

Epps doesn’t spend much time debating whether Retzlaff or Gerry Bohanon should be the starting quarterback on Aug. 31 against Southern Illinois. He is just happy to see the job is still up for grabs.

Kody Epps
BYU wide receiver Kody Epps speaks to reporters during the Big 12 college football media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. | LM Otero, Associated Press

“Battling for something does two things. For the quarterback who is named the starter, it gives him a sense of confidence because (he can think) ‘I’ve earned this and I’ve worked hard to get this,’” Epps said. “But also, the guy who doesn’t get named the starter, it does something for him in the sense of ‘I can still be a starter. I was competing with the starter, but this is still my team as well. I’m one play away from being on that field, too.’”

Chip on the shoulder

No one at BYU is happy with the Las Vegas projections of a 4.5 game win total for 2024. The Cougars believe they will be much better than last year’s 5-7 team. The low expectations provide kindling to feed a fire from within, although Epps believes there is enough in-house fuel already to fan the flames.

“One thing we are focused on this offseason is having a chip on your shoulder. Everything we do from now on is having a chip on our shoulder and using it, not as external motivation but as internal motivation because we are the ones putting the chip on our shoulder,” Epps said. “We are not allowing anyone else to do that for us. We want better and we want more for ourselves as a program, as a football team and as an institution.”

Dave McCann is a sportswriter and columnist for the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.