Donald De La Haye tried to blend in at a party in Los Angeles five years ago. He looked to his right and saw two people. He looked to his left to see Eddie George. He was surrounded by professional athletes, coaches, power brokers and other people. They were used to going to these types of parties. The kicker for the University of Central Florida was not.
He was supposed to be somewhere else. He was no longer the kicker for UCF.
De La Haye went from having a typical college athlete story to having a unique one in a short period of time. Before entering college, he started a YouTube channel that was filled with everything from vlogs and reactions to commentaries and skits with his friends. Revenue was small because of the channel's growth in subscribers. UCF was not having it. De La Haye had to choose between football or the internet.
De La Haye was emotional about the decision. It was a lot of work and stress at the time. I used the videos to be myself.
In the current college football landscape, De La Haye's video-making endeavor could have made for another feel-good NIL story. He had to either give up his online audience or his football scholarship in order to get it.
De La Haye moved out of athlete housing two days after making the decision. De La Haye was told by his friend that he could crash on his couch. I was there for a long time. We made videos for five months. The workhorses were us.
De La Haye is a lot more comfortable today. De La Haye, who goes by "Dee" to everyone who knows him, lays back on a couch and remembers the days when he was pumping out nearly double-digit videos a week on his own. A lot has changed since then, including the fact that the 25-year-old now has nearly 5 million YouTube subscribers, a small team of people who help him produce the channel, and representatives from FaZe Clan who handle his appearances and schedule.
College football is different. In the second year of the NIL, athletes aren't just able to make money off their image and likeness by making deals with companies, they're also now starting player-led collectives to which fans can donate and get exclusive player content not so different from what De La Hay His story looks like a sign of the modern college athlete, where winning still rules, but you need to use your audience and exposure. Ensuring there's another path to success that doesn't involve the pros is one thing.
"There's an alternate world where he's a YouTube celebrity playing college football and he could have been massive and brought a whole new audience of fans to UCF," said Soskin. A person like that can be a cash-flow positive for a program.
De La Haye wants you to know that he's not upset that he didn't make it to the NFL, but that he's made it so big in the digital world that both the entity that pushed him away and the one he wasn't are happy about it.
The cameraman for the NFL Media has a simple task.
On a hot July day at the Los Angeles Rams training camp in Irvine, California, long after Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp have gone home, a throng of people have stuck around for two reasons: to be part of a 1on1 video by De La Haye.
The premise of the videos is that players 14 and older come to the event and get to play both wide receiver and defensive back once in a ladder style match in which volunteer quarterbacks throw different routes. The receiver who completes a catch advance, as well as the defenders who deny a catch, are called out by referees. The winner of the contest gets $10,000. In a recent video in Detroit, Tee Grizzley matched the original prize money of $20,000.
De La Haye and his 1ON1 series had a training camp in Los Angeles in August. Other celebrities, top ranked recruits and even NFL players have been featured in these videos. For the younger crowd, De La Haye is the main attraction.
A kid yells "Dee, I want to be on YouTube!" as De La Haye walks out onto the field wearing a custom Rams jersey. De La Haye turned to the players, who had changed into their cleats, and went into host mode.
No one else is bringing you to the Rams' facility. We came all the way out here to have a good time, not to put on a show.
De La Haye challenged people to different things on and off the football field. De La Haye was told about a local meet-up that featured high school recruits going up against each other in one-on-one contests. The event was elevated by De La Haye.
"It's a big hangout and it brings out the whole community, whether you're black, white, Hispanic, or Chinese," De La Haye said. We try to go to areas with lower income levels. We want to make these events free for everyone to attend. We're going to the hood. It's like a big block party when it's happening.
De La Haye wanted to give the winner a game. He wanted to give out money as the videos got more popular. He took the series to different locations around the country and put up his own $10,000 prize while spending about $25,000 to put the events on as he had to rent fields and hire security.
The National Football League called earlier this year. The league wanted to have De La Haye host the 1on1s at different NFL training camp locations. It would be funded by the National Football League. This felt like a stamp of approval.
"Deestroying is so credible to the game of football and sits perfectly at the intersection of content creation and the game," said Eddie Capobianco, vice president of culture marketing at the National Football League. "Our continued collaboration with Deestroying and FaZe Clan drives genuine connection with our younger fans across diverse communities, all while giving emerging athletes the chance to compete, have fun and most importantly, bond around the sport we all love in an exciting way."
The scene gets crazy when De La Haye hosts another 1on1. De La Haye's team had to stop the event because of overcrowding. The event was held at Ford Field in Detroit.
It is not lost on De La Haye that the situation is ironic.
A lot of my fans are wondering when I will make it to the league. De La Haye looked happy. I was able to make it to the league.
He got a lot of attention after De La Haye made his decision. He wasn't allowed to live in athlete housing or get athlete meals because of his place on the football team. His only other option was to stay in Florida and make more videos.
You're in the back of your mind wondering if this will fall off. What if people don't care about my videos? When he was young, De La Haye wondered if he made the right decision. I thought I had to stop living off this for the rest of my life. You're scared but you're still working.
De La Haye sued the school for violating his free speech rights. The University of Central Florida said that De La Haye wasn't allowed to post videos there because of his athletics, reputation, prestige or ability. De La Haye was able to finish his education in November of last year.
It wasn't so popular that he could live off of it. It's still yet. De La Haye had to make it work after his family came to the U.S. from Costa Rica when he was a child. His family was against the idea of rejecting a college scholarship for an online hobby.
During his first year of high school, De La Haye started making videos as a hobby because his dad always had a video camera around to record his soccer games. De La Haye downloaded Modern Warfare videos off the internet and editing them himself with his own commentary, or messing around with a GoPro he had saved up to purchase, creating skits out of everyday situations. He transitioned to videos about his life as an athlete while also making behind-the-scenes videos of his trick kicks or meet-ups with college and NFL players.
De La Haye had to trust that the same passion that moved him to choose this over football would lead to success after he left football.
De La Haye said that it was gradual. I promote my content on other platforms and put out the content. It's just putting in the time to think and make good stuff.
De La Haye went to an open tryout for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League team in order to create more videos about his pursuit of playing football. After he was signed to the practice squad of the Toronto Argonauts, his videos of making it on the team started to be featured on the team's website and on the team's social media accounts. His page was taken off by others. The football dream was not the same as the other one.
De La Haye said it was weird to be in the Canadian Football League.
The pay and conditions were subpar and the chances of him getting on the field were slim because the team didn't prioritize the kicking position.
It wasn't worth it for me to come home.
The turning point was signaled by that. It helped his dreams more than it helped his football ones. He had a million subscribers and realized that his goals had changed. He wanted to invest his money in everything from stocks to real estate, as well as helping his parents retire, so he reinvested in his videos.
De La Haye's mother doesn't have to work at 4 a.m. anymore. I'm still working on my dad's retirement, but I've been able to help them financially, and that's made me happy.
The NFL isn't the only one who wants to get in on the fun. Colleges are starting to call as well. This year alone, De La Haye has been on the UCLA, USC, Michigan and Jackson State campuses, wearing a full uniform, getting a tour of the facilities and creating video content with some of the programs' star players.
De La Haye is embracing the fact that things are coming full circle. The importance of social media is being realized by schools. The coaches and staff know that stuff is going in the right direction.
De La Haye is not bitter, but if he said he didn't wonder how different his life would have been, he would be lying. When the possibility of name, image and likeness reform came up, De La Haye's only thought was: "I will believe it when I see it." He and the rest of the college sports world witnessed it. De La Haye was asked about his feelings. The "what if's" were so intriguing that it was easy to imagine them.
How much would it cost a group of people to get De La Haye to the school? Soskin said that De La Haye could be the megaphone for the team, like Livvy Dunne and the Cavinder twins did for the LSU gymnastics team. The value of having someone like that on your roster is a great recruiting tool because they allow your other players to get more exposure.
He sees it as validation that colleges want to have De La Haye on campus. He said his scholarship from the University of Central Florida wouldn't have been able to help him pay for his mom's mortgage and help her retire the way he has.
This ain't a flex but today I realized I make more money being a YouTuber than I would have being an NFL kicker. I think I might have made the right choice..— FaZe Dee (@Deestroying) September 6, 2022
Even though De La Haye can still kick a 60-yard field goal, the dream of playing in the NFL has been put on hold.
De La Haye said that showing people that there is more to life than just playing football is more important than just playing football. I have been able to turn that passion into a career. I'm building something out of it that's going to last me a long time.
De La Haye hopes to keep advising younger athletes about finances and building their brand as he continues to expand his online audience andTrademarkiaTrademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia.Trademarkia He often fields questions from college athletes asking about NIL, money, investing and other financial topics that De La Haye has had to learn on his own, and he's already had one university reach out to him to speak to athletes.
Did you mean that university? The University of Central Florida