Ky‘Wuan Dukes was scrolling through his Instagram feed one day last month when he stumbled upon a shocker: Vayner Sports, a New York agency that represents athletes, was reaching out to him with a potential endorsement deal.
Bojangles, the note said, was looking to sign college athletes to promote its food products, and Dukes, a redshirt freshman receiver at Johnson C. Smith University, was seen as a potential fit.
Dukes, who transferred to JCSU this year from Elizabeth City State University, described his feelings at that moment as “shocked.”
Now, less than a month later, he is a local face for Bojangles’ new chicken sandwich — the first student-athlete from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to sign a deal with the Charlotte company. He joins the likes of Clemson University’s DJ Uiagalelei and the University of North Carolina’s Sam Howell, both football players who have signed with Bojangles.
Dukes declined to say how much he was paid for the endorsement deal, made possible in July when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed its longstanding rules to allow college athletes to benefit from their names and images, but he described the deal as “a blessing in disguise.”
“It was something positive that I needed to see,” he told QCity Metro. “I was just happy for the opportunity.”
For its part, Bojangles said in a statement that Dukes, who grew up in Statesville and played for Statesville High School, was a “natural fit” because of his North Carolina ties and familiarity with the brand.
“We’re thrilled to have Ky’Wuan join Team Bojangles as the first HBCU athlete on our roster,” Jackie Woodward, chief brand and marketing officer at Bojangles, said in the statement, which was emailed to QCity Metro. “We look forward to continuing our partnerships with HBCUs and athletes throughout our footprint.”
As a high school student, Dukes finished with 1,596 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns for the Statesville Greyhounds. He was named First-Team All-Conference twice, and First Team All-Piedmont twice.
He got a scholarship to play for Elizabeth City State, but the Covid pandemic canceled his freshman season and he transferred to JCSU.
Dukes said he hopes the new NCAA rule will bring added exposure to college athletes, especially those at HBCUs.
“It’s already hard for us as it is,” he said of HBCU student-athletes. “I’m glad we get that rule because…we are able to promote ourselves from marketing and be introduced to things we’ve never really seen.”
Before the rule change, Dukes said, many student-athletes were hurting financially while trying to balance academics and sports.
While many received scholarships and small stipends, he said, they still struggled to make ends meet while their schools profited off their names and athletic ability.
“It’s definitely a big help,” Dukes said. “Students that have parents that aren’t fortunate and don’t have things..now they can do it for themselves. This is definitely a good thing to happen for us.”
QCity Metro reached out to JCSU Head Football Coach Kermit Blount for comment, but he did not return our calls.
Here are some other HBCU athletes who have signed endorsement deals:
- Jackson State University defensive end Antwan Owen signed with Three Kings Grooming, a black-owned hair product shop in New York.
- Norfolk State University’s Rayquan Smith signed six endorsement deals with various companies within the first month.
- Tennessee State University’s Hercy Miller, son of rapper/entrepreneur Master P, recently signed with Web Apps America, worth a reported $2 million.
- Alabama A&M University’s Zabrien Moore and Gary Quarles each signed deals with Boost Mobile.