SBJ/Jan. 20-26, 2014/Labor and Agents

With Bortles, independent Rep 1 is in the hunt for No. 1

Liz Mullen
Rep 1 Sports, an independently owned, relatively low-profile NFL representation firm, is emerging among agencies in having a potentially strong draft class this year, with a group of players that includes University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, who could end up as the No. 1 overall selection in May.

But it wasn’t just the signing of Bortles that opened eyes. The agency has signed seven other highly rated players, as well: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, Nevada offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, UCLA wide receiver Shaq Evans, Vanderbilt offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin, Colorado State center Weston Richburg and UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
 
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles is a potential No. 1 pick.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Rep 1 agents Bruce Tollner, Ryan Tollner, Chase Callahan and Brian Parker recruited the players and will represent them for contract work. Rep 1 also is representing the players for endorsements and off-the-field work, with the agents working with Nima Zarrabi, Rep 1 director of marketing and public relations, on those endeavors.
 
Cousins Bruce and Ryan Tollner founded Rep 1 in 2006 after working for four years for veteran agent Leigh Steinberg. The firm currently represents about 40 NFL players, including Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler had Bortles No. 1 in his mock draft last week. Another CBS Sports draft analyst, Rob Rang, had Bortles No. 3 in his mock draft, but in a text exchange, Rang felt Bortles could ultimately go No. 1.
 
“Bortles is a big strong kid with a good arm, athleticism and much better poise and vision in the pocket for a player than many expect from ‘lower competition,’” Rang wrote.
 
UCF has not been known as a major NFL-player-producing school, and Bortles was not highly ranked at the beginning of the 2013 college football season. That changed as the team proceeded to post a 12-1 record on the season that included an upset of heavily favored Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. As a result, Rang said, Bortles’ draft stock has been “steadily rising.”

Bortles’ low ranking at the beginning of the season may have also caught some high-profile agents flat-footed. Multiple sources said larger firms tried to sign Bortles but came in late in the process. By that time, sources said Rep 1 agents, and Ryan Tollner in particular, had already established a relationship.
 
Bruce Tollner, who is the son of former USC head coach Ted Tollner, declined to comment on the recruiting process in a brief telephone interview last week.
 
It’s not the first time Ryan Tollner, who played quarterback at Cal, has beaten out more experienced agents for a top draft prospect. He did it a decade ago when he signed Roethlisberger, who was the No. 11 pick of the 2004 draft.

> ATHLETES FIRST SIGNS BIG DRAFT CLASS: NFL rep firm Athletes First has also signed a large draft class of prospects, including highly rated Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Matthews was slotted at No. 6 by Rang and No. 9 by Brugler in their mock drafts last week. He is represented by David Dunn, Athletes First founder and president, and agent Ryan Williams.

Athletes First also has signed three USC players: wide receiver Marqise Lee, safety Dion Bailey and center Marcus Martin. Other players signed include Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Arizona State defensive end/outside linebacker Carl Bradford, Arkansas center Travis Swanson, Texas wide receiver Mike Davis, and San Jose State quarterback David Fales.
 
In addition to Dunn and Williams, Athletes First agents Andrew Kessler, Brian Murphy, Joe Panos and David Mulugheta will represent the players.

As reported by SportsBusiness Journal last month (Dec. 2-8, 2013, issue), Wasserman Media Group is in discussions to acquire Athletes First. Sources said if a deal is consummated, it would occur in the next few months.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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