Oregon State Beavers hope culture, opportunities and growing NIL program will help retain players like Damien Martinez

Published: Dec. 13, 2022

By Nick Daschel | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Early signing day is roughly two weeks away, but recruiting is hardly finished for the Oregon State Beavers.

In fact, some of the biggest recruiting wins for coach Jonathan Smith and his staff may come within his own locker room.

Since the transfer portal and name, image and likeness legislation joined hands, it’s become a full-time job for coaches to hang onto their players.

Is it illegal for schools to contact players on other teams who aren’t in the transfer portal? Of course. But it’s become impossible to police third-party contacts, who run shady games by making behind-the-scenes offers to parents and family members of players.

Oregon State players such as freshmen running back Damien Martinez and tight end Jack Velling could be offseason targets of such maneuvers. How does it work? Someone unaffiliated — but with significant pull — at, say XYZ University, reaches out to a parent and says, “If your son were to put his name into the transfer portal and sign with our school, we’d make sure at least $500,000 in endorsement deals would be made available to him.”

Potential deals could be so lucrative, it would be difficult for many families to reject.

Washington State coach Jake Dickert sounded off on the subject Monday during a pre-LA Bowl press conference, telling reporters “there’s more tampering going on than you could ever imagine. … we had a coach from another school contact one of our players and offer him NIL. It’s stunning.”

Smith is aware of what’s at stake with Martinez and others.

“I think he’s pretty happy here,” Smith said of Martinez, the Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year. “But that’s the day and age of college football now that you’ve got to be aware of.”

It’s not just cash opportunities that lure a player elsewhere, from Smith’s perspective.

“We try to make it as good for him as possible here, and I think he appreciates how we operate,” Smith said.

Money talks, though, and Oregon State must adjust in the NIL collective world. The most prominent for OSU is Dam Nation Collective, which officially opened for business in November after being organized earlier this year. It has the backing of prominent former Oregon State athletes, and calls itself the “preferred collective” of OSU athletics. Dam Nation has a significant corporate tie with Learfield, which has thousands of business relationships nationally as a prominent college media marketing machine.

Co-founders Kyle Bjornstad and Dick Oldfield say interest in their venture has been “crazy.”

How crazy? In a recent story on Washington State’s 247Sports site ‘Cougfan’ about its NIL collective, former Cougar Robbie Tobeck was quoted as saying “Oregon State came out with, I believe it was, $3 million raised.”

Bjornstad said that’s inaccurate.

“We are swinging for the fences and we want to make this the best collective in the country,” Bjornstad said. “But I don’t know where that came from.”

Asked how much Dam Nation has raised, Bjornstad declined comment. More than 200 individuals, families or businesses have donated to the collective, ranging from $100 to more than $5,000.

Though raising money is important, it’s not the sole mission of Dam Nation. The collective is trying to build relationships with businesses, which in turn want to partner with OSU athletes during their tenure in school and, perhaps, beyond. A lot of the early footwork involves education for businesses and athletes about how they can grow together.

Of immediate concern, though, is having a presence in football. Without a robust football program, Power 5 athletic departments struggle to survive. What can Dam Nation do to keep players like Martinez in the fold?

“We can help Damien find some opportunities going forward that are meaningful to him, and hopefully that helps keep him a Beaver as he excels on the field and in school,” Oldfield said.

Martinez’s first taste of NIL will come during Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl radio broadcast, when he will serve as voice for a Dam Nation commercial.

“We’re going to take care of these guys when they’re here,” Bjornstad said.

As for potential transfers, it’s murky waters for Dam Nation. Though there are myriad examples throughout the country that transfers are moving to new schools in part because of lucrative financial opportunities, Oldfield said Dam Nation cannot “touch them until they’re on campus.”

Bjornstad believes word will get out to potential transfers that Dam Nation will deliver if they become Beavers.

“We believe we’re building something that will speak for itself,” Bjornstad said.