By LEE BRECHEEN, Louisiana Football Magazine
Most high school football players dream of playing pro ball. The financial rewards of reaching the NFL are immense. But the challenge of making the most of the money earned might be tougher than the very long odds of making an NFL roster.
Longtime Shreveporter Mike Wilburn, CFP, is with the Momentum Independent Network, part of Hilltop Securities in Dallas. Wilburn has over 30 years helping athletes with their money and has worked with many local and area pros. Now with high school athletes able to enter into Name, Image and Likeness deals, the landscape is changing and it’s vital for the young people and families to get sound advice.
You played football, baseball and ran track at Cotton Valley High School. What about your college years?
WILBURN: I had an interesting path to my degree. I went to Northwestern State, and then after my freshman year I got drafted and was in the U.S. Army serving in the Vietnam War. I got wounded twice. After the war I came home and finished my business degree from Northwestern.
How long have you have been involved with representing NFL players as a financial advisor?
WILBURN: I started in 1994 after having several conversations with good friend Gary Reasons, who started in two Super Bowls and won championships with the New York Giants. He was the Giants NFL Players Association representative and also filled that role for a year in Cincinnati. I got to know Gary when he played at Northwestern State. After he retired, he told me I ‘should get into helping these kids because you are a great sports guy, very knowledgeable, and you know finances.’
So I did, and it all started with 1993 Demons senior Marcus Spears, a great offensive lineman who played for Northwestern and became the Chicago Bears’ second-round NFL Draft pick, the 39th overall pick. Other clients of mine include receiver Marty Booker of ULM and the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots RB John Stephens from NSU, ULM and Minden’s Stepfret Williams of the Dallas Cowboys, and the late Steve McNair, quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. I also was associated with first-rounders Josh Booty (Evangel) and Sean West (Captain Shreve, supplemental draft) in their pro baseball careers.
What advice do you have for high school and college kids getting NIL money, and going forward to the professional level?
WILBURN: You need the right financial advisor with experience and someone you can trust, who can understand that player’s desires and needs, and that dynamic. Creating additional cash flow is very important. The NFL is a short career for most. I always told my clients don’t spend a lot of money your first two years; let’s see where you will be in 4-5 years with another contract, or even if there’s another contract coming. The average life span in the NFL is under four years.
You have to be honest with your clients and look out for them when it comes to buying a house, a car, land, or anything significant. The athlete has to be smart with the money, especially in the first 2-3 years, and if you’re lucky, longer, so you have money available to set you up for the rest of your life.
Do you like the rules outlining how prospective financial advisors can contact parents or colleges?
WILBURN: I think it’s highly important that financial advisors be able to talk to parents as soon as they can to give advice to their kid. I think we need vast separation in the business from financial advisor to the sports agent. Agents should not be handling the player’s financials and representing them as agents – those roles are different and conflicting interests can rear up.
When is the right time for a financial advisor to get hired by an ambitious athlete?
WILBURN: When a parent tells me it’s OK, and I can give advice and talk about who I am, my experience and perspective. It should be about their child. I think we should be allowed to call now since NIL has opened up everything for these kids, even in high school.
You have a three-step approach and some more advice for families and athletes to consider.
WILBURN: Step 1 is pre-draft, Step 2 is the pro career and Step 3 is the post-playing career. You don’t want to get risky with the amount of money in bonuses, because you can lose a lot. NFL players mostly have football on their minds so they need solid advice to make good decisions outside of focusing on their livelihood. We pay bills like credit cards, car payments, and we have dealt with contractors on building them a house. It’s so important to choose a financial advisor you can trust who has experience, not your buddy or relative, or somebody starting out. The ultimate goal is at the end of the player’s career, they have enough money to live on forever. You shoot for financial independence, and that is a combination of the athlete’s skill, good fortune with injuries and success, and wisdom in choosing a good advisor and a solid agent.
Tell us about your son, Jeremy Wilburn, the offensive coordinator for Huntington High School in Shreveport.
WILBURN: I have a picture of Jeremy when he was really young with a football in his hand, and I look back at that picture and realize this kid was loving the game at such a young age. He has passion for the game, and I admire his passion and work ethic he puts into it every day. I am proud of how he is molding these young men he teaches on a daily basis. He played two years at Byrd High and has coached at Mangham, Airline and as a graduate assistant at Northwestern State under Bradley Dale Peveto.
A former Independence Bowl Foundation board member, Mike currently serves on two foundation boards at Northwestern State. His e-mail is MWilburn@MomentumIn.com.
Contact Lee at email@example.com