Braelon Allen walked into Pat’s Gym in downtown Madison this summer ready to put in a different kind of work than he’s used to in a weight room.
It was the afternoon following the University of Wisconsin football team’s training camp practice Aug. 21, and Allen — a freshman running back — was carrying into the gym a large box of Iron Joc sportswear. Iron Joc founder and UW grad Paul Hanson was stunned. He’d sent Allen that box of clothes shortly after they’d put pen to paper on a name, image and likeness deal for Allen to be sponsored by Iron Joc.
Allen wasn’t sure what Hanson or his video team wanted him to wear that day as they filmed commercials for the company, so he came prepared.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this kids, he’s a little different,’” Hanson said. “As I got to talk to him, just how focused he was, how intense he was about what he was doing, how deliberate he is — he’s very thoughtful when he speaks.”
Hanson watched as Allen warmed up, acknowledging he was three weeks into his first college training camp.
“I said, ‘Are you tired?’” Hanson said. “He goes, ‘Ah, I’m not tired. Let’s get it going.’ Then he strapped on about 400 pounds to start squatting. He was in there for two hours.”
Allen’s role continues to grow on the field for the Badgers, who are 8-3 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten Conference and looking to secure a Big Ten West Division championship Saturday when they travel to Minnesota (7-4, 5-3) for a 3 p.m. kickoff. Allen took over as the No. 1 tailback after junior Chez Mellusi’s left-leg injury suffered against Rutgers. Allen has 1,070 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But Hanson didn’t predict Allen — a four-star, in-state recruit — would be playing such a big role so early for UW. He thought he was making a long-term investment when he signed Allen as an endorser.
The partnership made sense for both sides and came together quickly once rules granting NCAA athletes the ability to make money from such sponsorships took effect. Allen signed with Lammi Sports Management the first week of July, and his deal with Iron Joc came together hours later. Allen’s mother had to sign the paperwork because he’s 17 years old.
“It was Lammi’s first time having somebody land a deal on the first day of signing with them,” Allen said with a laugh. “It’s pretty cool. They got everything straightened out for me.”
Allen has been featured in a commercial for Iron Joc, which fans may have seen during the TV broadcasts of Badgers and Green Bay Packers games. Two new ads featuring Allen launched last week. He’s also provided voiceovers for radio spots that are being played in Milwaukee, Hanson said.
Fitness and strength training so often are associated with Allen because of his outstanding weightlifting feats, so working with a workout apparel brand like Iron Joc made sense.
“The owner, he’s a Wisconsin guy himself, so we had that connection,” Allen said. “Obviously they make workout clothes, which suits me pretty well. I think that the partnership was just perfect overall.”
Business dealings with Allen start with Brian Ersoy, his agent at Lammi Sports Management, a firm whose managing partner is Packers receiver Donald Driver. Ersoy — also a UW grad — said he’ll watch during games as Allen’s social-media following grows with each long run or highlight touchdown.
Opportunities for Allen are starting to roll in, but Ersoy said he and the team at Lammi are focused on filtering offers and only presenting Allen with deals that would make sense and fit his overall brand.
“In the NIL (name, image and likeness) space, it’s most successful for these guys when the athlete has a known or designated personal brand and niche market,” Ersoy said, “which in Braelon’s case has been fitness and working out. It’s good for him that he’s got this set brand, this niche market that people know he’s connected to.”
Allen and fellow Fond du Lac product Andrew Stone, a thrower on UW’s track and field team, have started The HUMBLE HU$$LE Brand, which currently sells workout programs. Allen and Hanson have plans to work together this offseason on a line of instructional workout videos hosted by Allen.
Ersoy said Allen signed a deal to teach children’s classes at Harbor Athletic Club in Madison starting in January.
UW coaches have credited Allen’s maturity and work ethic for his ability to handle what’s being asked of him on the football field. Those who’ve worked with him in the business world see the same qualities.
“He’s the most mature 17 year old I’ve ever met,” Ersoy said. “He’s got a plan already after retirement to teach fitness and be a personal trainer. He’s definitely got a goal.”
Quarterback Graham Mertz and other teammates have shown UW can be a fertile ground for NIL opportunities, and Allen appears to be the next in line to make his mark in this new world for college athletes. He said he’s excited to continue building partnerships and evolving the ones he already has.
“Eventually they’ll help me get to a place that I want to go in my future, what I want to do with my brand,” he said.
Photos: Wisconsin Badgers edge Nebraska Cornhuskers to retain Freedom Trophy