BYU’s Gonzales ready to take advantage of name, image and likeness
(From left) BYU's Shaylee Gonzales, Maria Albiero and Kaylee Smiler celebrate their NCAA first round victory against Rutgers at Strahan Arena in San Marcos, Texas, on Monday, March 22, 2021.
BYU's Shaylee Gonzales dribbles the ball during practice at Strahan Arena in San Marcos, Texas, on Saturday, March 20, 2021, in preparation for the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Perhaps no BYU athlete is better positioned to take advantage of the name, image and likeness bonanza in college sports than Shaylee Gonzales.
Five years ago — while still in high school — Gonzales started to make videos about her life and posting them on social media. She now has 77,000 followers on Instagram. By comparison — the frontrunners for the starting quarterback job for the Cougars, Baylor Romney, Jaren Hall and Jacob Conover — have 2,764, 2,687 and 1,660, respectively.
Former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson didn’t use his social media accounts much while in Provo but since being taken No. 2 in the NFL draft by the New York Jets in April his following on Instagram has grown to 257,000.
BYU men’s basketball player Caleb Lohner has 33,000 Instagram followers. Gonzales’ teammate, Paisley Harding, also got a head start on social media while still in high school and has 28,000 Instagram followers.
There’s more: Gonzales has 210,000 followers on Tik Tok and 129,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.
Clearly, the 5-foot-10 guard, who earned West Coast Conference co-Player of the Year in 2021, has skills that extend beyond the basketball court.
“Even from the start when I come to college with my YouTube channel I did not expect it to get as big as it has,” Gonzales said. “I was just doing it for fun. I didn’t really think of the possibilities. It’s been kind of overwhelming the past couple of days and I’m just trying to take it all in, that it’s actually happening. I’ve been receiving lots of DMs (direct messages) and e-mails from companies wanting to work with me. It’s so exciting. I’ve been waiting for this moment to get paid but I didn’t know if it would happen.”
Counted among her followers? Donald De La Haye — a former college athlete who goes by “Deestroying” and has 3.4 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Also, Fresno State basketball players and twins Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who have more than four million followers across social media platforms. Gonzales played against the twins in Arizona during her prep career. They just signed a deal with Boost Mobile and were featured in an ad on a video board in Times Square this week.
Gonzales is also followed by former US soccer player Kylie Ross (92,000 followers on Instagram), former BYU basketball standout and current Milwaukee Buck Elijah Bryant, dozens of inquiring businesses and thousands of future and current college athletes.
“Shaylee and Paisley have really been into social media since they’ve been here,” BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins said. “We’ve had recruits we’ve talked to who know them and follow them on social media. It’s really opened a lot of doors in recruiting.”
Gonzales added: “For sure, it does get BYU on the map. It puts us out there. I get lots of DMs in my comments about athletes who want to come to BYU because of the content they see. It was super special for them to see us go into the second round of the NCAA Tournament this year when we connected with people on social media and they got to see behind the scenes.”
On July 1, NIL laws in dozens of states took effect and college athletes could finally take advantage of opportunities to earn money from their name, image and likeness, something the NCAA has controlled for decades.
Could all of this attention be a distraction?
“It can be,” Gonzales admitted. “My dad called me yesterday and we had a long conversation about the NIL stuff. He said he wants me to remember that basketball and school should be my focus. I can see about my social media and working with companies but my real focus should be basketball and school. I think this will be a distraction for some student-athletes but I know I have my head on straight. It won’t be a distraction for me.”
It’s still early in the game and Gonzales is examining her options. She said she plans to take full advantage of programs and classes — the association with athletic marketing company OpenDorse and the newly announced Built4Life, for example — BYU is providing its student-athletes.
“It’s so exciting,” Gonzales said. “Things are happening.”