College athletes have been influencers for years, but beginning in 2021, they can finally make money from it. After the NCAA changed its ruling to allow college athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness (NIL), college athletes quickly began scooping up endorsements and sponsorships. With many student-athletes boasting numbers that are attractive to sponsors, it changed the playing field overnight.
So who’s at the top of their influencer game? Here’s a look at some of the top college athlete influencers on Instagram.
LSU Tigers Basketball
Son of superstar Shaquille O’Neal, Shareef is a power forward who missed his first season because he needed open-heart surgery. But that hasn’t stopped him on or off the court; he has managed to amass one of the most impressive social media audiences of any college athlete and is now eyeing sponsorship offers from potential partners.
Dunne is the most-followed college athlete in the country, enjoying some 3.9 million followers on TikTok in addition to having more than 1 million followers on Instagram. Her posts combine her competitive athletic accomplishments and her personal side, which shows her interest in fashion with a little bit of dancing thrown in.
University of Connecticut Huskies Basketball
This sophomore guard had a standout, award-winning freshman year on the court, including taking home the Best Female College Athlete ESPY Award. Although she underwent ankle surgery in the spring of 2021, her growing Instagram following puts her in an enviable position to enjoy significant partnerships.
Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball
The 6’1” sophomore stands out not only for his performance on the court but as the biggest social media influencer in Alabama’s college system. The point guard started beefing up his following back in high school as part of a team that made a finger-roll basketball video that went viral, and it’s only grown since then.
Oklahoma Sooners Football
The standout redshirt sophomore quarterback has plenty of eyes on him both on and off the field. After leading his team through a winning (9-2) season last year, many favor him to win the Heisman and he landed on the top spot on ESPN’s first annual list of Top 100 college players.
Fresno State Basketball
Until the pandemic hit, Hanna Cavinder and her identical twin sister Haley were best known for excelling on the basketball court at Fresno State. But boredom during the pandemic-induced lockdown led to making videos for Hanna’s TikTok page, and soon they became some of the college athlete scene’s biggest social media influencers.
Fresno State Basketball
The other half of the twin power team, Haley Cavinder is a 5’6” point guard that set the Fresno State record for becoming the school’s fastest player to score 1,000 points. The twins were the first to sign an endorsement deal (with Boost Mobile) when the NCAA announced the changes.
Alabama Crimson Tide Football
With his star rapidly rising, the quarterback for the Tide is also on the shortlist to win this year’s Heisman. Although he doesn’t have quite the number of followers as some other athletic standouts, he’s already landed more than $800,000 in sponsorship deals.
Nebraska Cornhuskers Volleyball
Perhaps most remarkable is that Lexi Sun is Nebraska’s most-followed college athlete, which is unexpected in football-focused Cornhusker territory. But the 6’2” outside hitter has built a significant following that she’ll no doubt continue to grow as she enters her final season on the squad.
University of North Carolina Football
Now a junior at UNC, Howell started attracting attention as a freshman and this year’s powerful lineup for the Tar Heels could push the quarterback farther into the national spotlight. His first official sponsorship is with TABLE, an organization that provides hunger relief for local children.
University of Florida gymnast
A member of the Florida Gators women’s gymnastics team, Thomas was on the gold medal-winning team at the 2018 Pan American Gymnastics Championships. She opted out of competing for a spot on this year’s Olympic team to focus on rehabbing from an injury at the end of last year’s collegiate season, but her time off hasn’t slowed the growth of her social media followers.
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