Evanston grads hop aboard the NIL bandwagon

When opportunity knocked for college athletes, Northwestern basketball player Elyjah Williams was quick to answer.

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Garrett Jones, who played on Evanston’s Class 4A fourth-place finisher in 2008, has started a clothing line called Town Kid.

Garrett Jones, who played on Evanston’s Class 4A fourth-place finisher in 2008, has started a clothing line called Town Kid.

Photo courtesy of Garrett Jones .

When opportunity knocked for college athletes, Northwestern basketball player Elyjah Williams was quick to answer.

“As soon as they came up with the NIL thing, I definitely wanted to take advantage as much as I can,” said Williams, an Evanston grad who is back in town with the Wildcats after playing four seasons for Fairleigh Dickinson.

Williams is one of many college athletes exploring ways to build their brands and make some money under the new Name, Image, Likeness rules.

He and several other former Wildkits have found a way to do that while also staying true to their roots. They are brand ambassadors for the Town Kid clothing line founded by Garrett Jones.

A 2011 Evanston grad and four-year varsity basketball player, Jones played for the 2008 team that finished third in Class 4A. He went on to play two years at New Hampshire before finishing his college career and earning a bachelor’s in sports psychology at Division II Hillsdale. He has since earned a master’s in education from North Park and is an assistant girls basketball coach at Niles West.

Along the way, Jones and a couple other former Evanston grads who went on to play college basketball — James Farr (Xavier) and Rodney Pryor (Georgetown) — came up with the idea of Town Kid.

The clothing line — which currently includes shirts, hats, hoodies and shorts, among other gear — is a tribute to what Jones and others believe is a special community.

“I always say it, I feel like Evanston is one of the most unique places,” Jones said. “The support is real and you can feel it, especially with the athletic community here, the sports teams at the high school and the sports teams at the middle schools.”

Getting the word out about Evanston isn’t always easy though.

“I remember growing up, [knowing] Chicago is right down the street,” Jones said. “They have numerous things to represent them. We’re just a city close to Chicago.”

Now Town Kid can represent Evanston, and thanks to NIL, it’s easier for Jones to spread the word. The timing couldn’t be better, as he works to build the brand.

“I didn’t want to tamper with things that got any athletes in trouble,” Jones said. “When this opportunity came about, I wanted to [invest] in people I’ve known. I’ve known all of them from middle school on.”

Right now, the list includes Williams, Lance Jones (Southern Illinois men’s basketball), Blake Peters (Princeton men’s basketball), Kayla Henning (American women’s basketball) and Quadre Nicholson (Miami of Ohio football).

Partnering with Town Kid was a no-brainer, Williams and Lance Jones said.

“That’s how we definitely see ourselves, as town kids,” Williams said. “It’s also really cool gear. I’m so happy [Garrett Jones] came up with the idea.”

Lance Jones had a definite comfort level dealing with Garrett Jones, whom he grew up watching play for the Wildkits.

That was important as Lance Jones considered dipping his toe into the NIL pool.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to expect, how the whole thing was going to be handled,” Lance Jones said. “I was taking a back seat and seeing if my opportunity came.

“Definitely, at first I was hesitant. I was worried about people I don’t know reaching out to me.”

But Garrett Jones is determined to do right both for his growing company and for the athletes who came out of Evanston like he did.

“They’re great young people that represent Evanston in a great way,” Garrett Jones said.

Town Kid has the social media and online presence one would expect in 2021. Its website is thetownkid.com and it’s on Instagram at @eltownkid.

Growing a physical presence for the brand, by getting the gear into shops in Evanston, is on Garrett Jones’ to-do list.

Williams, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next.

“I had bought some of his shorts as soon as he came out with the idea,” Williams said. “People started buying it immediately. I really think that speaks about how much people respect Garrett.”

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