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Q&A: Clemson’s K.J. Henry utilized NIL ‘with purpose’, saved his dad’s life

K.J. Henry
Photo credit: Clemson Athletics

NIL has opened the door for student-athletes to financially benefit off their image, make an impact in the community, and even in some cases save lives. For former Clemson defensive end, K.J. Henry, utilizing his name, image and likeness was the key to securing his father, Keith Henry, the kidney transplant that would save his life.

The standout pass rusher, along with teammate Will Shipley, organized an autograph session to fundraise money to cover the expenses of Henry’s transplant. They raised over $100,000 for Keith’s surgery. Then, with the help of family member Karen Eaton, Keith found and received the kidney that would ultimately keep him alive.

The life changing event is only a fraction of the impact that Henry has had on his family and the Clemson community.

In a NIL partnership with Clemson-focused NIL collective, TigerImpact, Henry has further enhanced his relationship with HelpHopeLive. The organization is dedicated to fundraising money for expenses insurance doesn’t cover and helped the Henry family navigate the process of a kidney transplant.

RELATED: Q&A: Clemson’s Will Shipley is determined ‘to switch that narrative’ around NIL

Henry is now a spokesperson and advocate for the group, promoting them throughout his social media and finding ways to use his platform to help families in need.

Now after five years at Clemson, the former top 10 national recruit is preparing for the NFL Draft. He is expected to come off the board on Day 2 and join a star-studded collection of Tiger defensive ends on NFL rosters.

In a recent interview with The NIL Deal, Henry discussed his journey to help his father, the opportunities NIL has provided him, and what he’s most excited about as draft day inches closer.

The NIL Deal: What does HelpHopeLive mean to you and what are some of the projects that you’re working on with them?

Henry: “HelpHopeLive is a part of my life in essence. They’re doing what they believe in, which for me, was helping my father and our family’s process of finding a new kidney. They made it a lot smoother for me and my family. They have been a big part of my life, but now it’s really all about us teaming up together. I’m trying to make as many lives as I can, a little bit easier. They’ve appreciated my partnership and I can’t say I’ve been able to see my impact as of yet. However, they appreciate what I’m doing and that’s all that matters.”

The NIL Deal: What did it mean for you to watch your teammates step up to the plate and help raise money for your father and bring awareness to the difficulties of finding a transplant?

Henry: “Even today, it’s still hard to fathom. It shows that I chose the right school. Going to Clemson was the right decision, choosing these guys, this community was the right choice because obviously we’re winning a lot of games on Saturdays, but when it comes to those real life situations, no one flinched in the community. I can’t even say it was surprising. I knew who I’ve been surrounding myself with for years now, but it’s definitely allowed me to have somewhat of a relief in a tough time.”

The NIL Deal: How has TigerImpact opened up the opportunity for Clemson student-athletes to work with charities that hold special meanings in their lives?

Henry: “It’s been great. It sets Clemson apart from the regular pack. Obviously, the trend of NIL now is who can get the best players, and in some instances families and players need that, which I understand. I do appreciate and love the fact that players are being compensated for their hard work but are asked to help others and bring somebody up with them. It shows the true core of what Clemson is all about. TigerImpact is one of its own and allows student-athletes to better their communities. Some athletes have been on that fringe of wanting to help but not knowing where to step in. Money can motivate those things, so it’s cool to see athletes now taking charge in the sense of having the end goal of helping others.”

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The NIL Deal: What has TigerImpact done to help student-athletes better navigate the NIL space?

Henry: “It has allowed it to become a space where it’s goal-oriented. When you’ve set up those hurdles and checkpoints, where it’s this organization, and you get paid this much this month, and make ‘X’ amount of posts and show this much love. That’s how we as athletes are wired. Just go check mark, after check mark, after check mark, so it makes it easier. It allows us to add another lane into our lives. The structure and timing of TigerImpact probably couldn’t have come at a better time and place.”

The NIL Deal: You and Will Shipley were the Co-Founders of the “1 CLEM5ON” endowment. What was the inspiration behind that and how has it helped make such a difference in the Tiger community?

Henry: “The inspiration, like many great things, was cultivated through P.A.W. Journey, our connection with them, their staff, and really the model of helping and growing outside of football. We’re only getting started. I see big things for the “1 CLEM5ON” endowment especially with Will Shipley back at home holding down the fort. Excited for where that can go, especially seeing all my fellow athletes going in the right direction. I want to aid them as much as I can. Helping the retention rate of the students who are a part of this program and showing how important it is to get a degree. We understand the importance of education. We want to hit the student and the athletic portion of what’s affected our lives up until this point. Trying to raise the playing field for everybody so we all have a chance to be successful.”

The NIL Deal: How do you plan to continue to stay involved with HelpHopeLive and the Clemson community as you enter the next stage of your career?

Henry: “Constant communication. My first and foremost plan, is making sure the relationships and the networks that I built through HelpHopeLive stay alive and well. Which has so far to this point. Then always asking what I can do. I’m going to try my best to continue to have a social media presence with HelpHopeLive. Then to get started visiting families across the country who are going through the same situations that I endured and help them, with my platform, or any way that I can bring a smile to someone’s face. I’ve been in that situation and I understand those feelings. I want to be more hands on, but definitely want to keep that network and that relationship as I continue to move on.”

RELATED: Clemson’s TigerImpact NIL collective close to 50-athlete mark, says board member

The NIL Deal: What are some of the other NIL deals that you have had in college?

Henry: “I had some with Snapchat, Pepsi and Publix, a lot of small partnerships with trading card companies for example. Nothing too major, just opportunities that allowed me to network and keep my feet wet. I’ve never seen NIL as something I’m going to get rich off of and not work another day in my life. I wanted to make sure that I moved into it with purpose. As I started my business profile, I wanted to ensure that I’m setting a name for myself in everything that I do. Took some good steps this year in the business world and learned a lot. So, the focus is to continue to move forward marketing wise as I get to the next level.”

The NIL Deal: What advice would you give student-athletes entering the NIL space?

Henry: “First thing that comes to mind when I hear NIL, are all these kids want this check or that. Simple business fundamentals is, if you’re not performing on the field, nobody wants you in their company. So number one is, keep the main thing the main thing, which is your craft, what has gotten you your accolades and noticed up to this point. That same hard work is what matters, don’t shift the focus. Secondly, to make sure you have people in your corner that you trust, that can help you facilitate ideas, different deals, and always having somebody looking over your contract so you’re not in a place where you’re bound up legally in a bad situation. Lastly, all businesses aren’t good businesses. Just because it has a dollar sign behind it doesn’t mean you have to jump into it. Take it one at a time and be as smart as you can and you’ll flourish.”

The NIL Deal: If there’s one brand that you could partner with, who it would be and why?

Henry: “I’d say Lululemon. That’s some good clothing. I bought some shorts the other day and I was amazed by the quality. I like to golf too and they make a lot of comfortable golf wear for the course. As much as it costs, if I can get Lululemon a little bit cheaper I wouldn’t be mad at all.”

The NIL Deal: Being invited to the NFL Draft Combine, what are you most excited about?

Henry: “Excited for the opportunity. Excited to, first and foremost, see my former teammates and a lot of guys I competed with over the years and in high school. Every time we have these big football events, I see them as football reunions. So, love those opportunities to see your friends. However, I’m excited to prove myself once again and to be continually consistent. Out of everything, I’m excited for the drills and ready to show how I can move, my athleticism and to test well. It’s what I’ve been working on these last few months to make sure that I put my best foot forward.”

RELATED: Will Shipley, K.J. Henry provide resources to Clemson students with NIL money

The NIL Deal: When you get into the NFL, who is the one quarterback you would love to sack?

Henry: “Trevor Lawrence, 1,000%. I have no problem playing for Jacksonville, but if anybody would ask me why you wouldn’t play for Jacksonville it’s so I can sack Trevor. Great friend and roommate of mine. It’s not as much of a joke now, he thinks it’s a joke, but I’m serious. I tell him your day is coming. I told him before his wedding. I made that promise to him in front of his family. I plan to keep my word. He’s number one.”

The NIL Deal: Final thoughts?

Henry: “Anybody reading this, continue to invest in TigerImpact. The committee and board of athletes represent the university, their families, and these organizations well. So making that pitch to continue to invest in TigerImpact. Then to support HelpHopeLive. To continue to change lives. That’s what it’s all about and it can go a long way. To support both of these and I’m glad that my name is associated with them.”