Inside KeShaun Moore’s journey from HBCU linebacker to an NIL deal with WWE

KeShaun Moore was doing what almost every college student does in their free time — scrolling Instagram. But last April, he received a very unexpected direct message. One that immediately caught his attention.

“I didn’t know what to think at first. [WWE’s] The recruiting site messaged me on my Instagram about three months ago and told me about the opportunity [of Next In Line]’ Moore said. “I checked out the site and started talking to one of the guys in the talent department and the relationship just grew from there.”

The Next In Line program is an initiative in which WWE recruits and develops collegiate athletes from all types of athletic backgrounds into WWE Superstars, including football, gymnastics, wrestling and cheer. The partnership grants all signees access to the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando for wrestling training, along with resources across the organization including brand building, media training, live promotion and, if successful in training, the opportunity to be offered a WWE contract .

WWE announced its second Next In Line class on Monday, June 13. This year’s class featured 15 student-athletes from 14 different universities. Moore, a linebacker from Hampton University, was the first Historically Black College & University (HBCU) student to sign a name picture [NIL] Deal with WWE.

During initial discussions with Moore, his maturity and athletic build were something WWE’s recruiters immediately appreciated.

“He was very concerned about what he wanted his future to be like and those qualities showed us that this is a talent with a head in his head and would fit well in our dressing room,” said James Kimball, senior vice president of Global talent strategy at WWE and development, ESPN said. “Of course, his height and physique was the first box that got ticked. He has a framework that can be present in a ring and that is valuable.”

Moore is heading into his senior season with Hampton. As a junior, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker accumulated 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a touchdown and an interception. He earned Big South All-Conference honors.

“Once I graduate, my #1 goal is to play in the NFL, and if that doesn’t work out, it doesn’t hurt to know that I have this opportunity to train in Florida to be a wrestler to become.”

Due to off-season soccer practice, Moore was unable to attend the first event for WWE NIL signers, but he still plans to take advantage of the program’s offerings this summer.

“If my school and soccer schedule allows it, I go to a lot of live events because I never had the opportunity to do it as a kid,” he said. “I want to go to SummerSlam this summer because it’s one of the biggest pay-per-views right next to WrestleMania.”

SummerSlam takes place Saturday night at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee (8pm ET on Peacock).

Moore was a huge wrestling fan growing up watching wrestling on TV weekly and playing all the games on PlayStation. But his main interests in the company these days aren’t high-risk moves or superstars like John Cena and The Undertaker. It’s the behind the scenes and business side of things.

“My major in Hampton is marketing, and I have a business degree,” Moore said. “I’m all for the PR and marketing aspect of the company and learning how to market myself because it all sets the stage for my next steps in life.”

This past July, collegiate athletes began capitalizing on their name, image, and likeness. HBCUs have received increased media attention in recent years, and NIL has opened a big door for their athletes after years of being overlooked.

The first HBCU athlete to sign a NIL deal was Ky’Wuan Dukes, a wide receiver at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, who signed with fast-food chain Bojangles. Additionally, Shedeur Sanders, a quarterback at Jackson State and son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who is also the Jackson State head coach, signed a NIL contract with Gatorade last January.

“Having signed with WWE, it gives HBCU athletes a sense of gratitude to know that one of us can have a great opportunity,” Moore said. “WWE is a global phenomenon and they attract a lot of people from all over the world and they have a huge reputation.”

Kimball emphasized that the company is proud to say it has talent from an HBCU school, as the NIL program was established to provide a tremendous opportunity for collegiate athletes beyond the Power 5 schools.

“It’s important that our talent reflects our very diverse fan base. We have over 30 athletes in the program and over 50% of them are non-white,” said Kimball. “With the addition of KeShaun, WWE will continue to recognize and attract talent from HBCU programs.”

Though Moore was thrilled to play a significant part in HBCU history with the NIL deal, he held back the news for a while.

“I didn’t tell my parents directly at first because I didn’t know at the time how legitimate it was,” Moore said. “As things got more serious, I’ve been telling a few friends here and there, but I’ve had to kind of keep things on rock bottom until it’s finally all announced on social media. My phone immediately exploded with congratulations and people asking me what my last move will be.”

His mother was proud but not surprised by WWE’s interest in her son.

“He’s always had a magnetic personality and people are just drawn to him,” she said. “I knew from his first year in flag football as a five-year-old that he had real talent and could one day perform in front of a big audience.”

Football is a common starting point for professional wrestlers. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first played as a defensive back for the Miami Hurricanes alongside NFL Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp. Brock Lesnar played for the Minnesota Vikings in the 2004 preseason, and current Undisputed WWE Champion Roman Reigns was a first-team All-ACC defensive tackle for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets before trading cleats for wrestling boots. Big E played as a defenseman at the University of Iowa.

Moore knows his football skills translate perfectly into the ring. His desired finishing move ties the two together – a spear.

“I played defensive line, so I’m used to being in the trenches,” Moore said. “The stuff I think I would need to work on the most would be the entertainment aspect of everything and learning how to interact with the crowd. I’m quite an outgoing and outgoing guy, so if I refine that and sell my character, I think I can adapt quickly to the business and be one of the best.”

https://www.espn.com/wwe/story/_/id/34280115/inside-keshaun-moore-journey-hbcu-linebacker-nil-deal-wwe Inside KeShaun Moore’s journey from HBCU linebacker to an NIL deal with WWE

Emma Bowman

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