Turning Down the Money

ATHENS - Georgia senior running back Wes Van Dyk seems to be the only person in college football turning money down these days.

In a world filled with college administrators selling their schools to the highest bidder for television rights by day and college athletes getting tangled up in money-related NCAA snafus by night, Van Dyk turned down $100,000 and continued playing football at Georgia this fall even though he hardly ever plays a snap.

Let me say that again – Van Dyk actually turned money down and continued play football in college.

"He had a real big opportunity," Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. "I asked him: ‘Do you think staying here is going to hinder your chances of doing it?' Because that's life – you know? Because he only has one more year to do this – he can do that the rest of his life."

The $100,000 opportunity? Starting his own family-run business.

A senior from Dallas, TX, Van Dyk's biggest break at Georgia came away from the football field or the classroom. It came as a result of watching his older sister Katie struggle to avoid paper cutting her hands to death while dealing with stacks of folders and sheets of paper for her sorority's annual rush.

"She was a rush captain at Texas, and I went down to visit her," Van Dyk said of his visit to Austin five years ago.

Katie was in the midst of figuring out how to make sense of the unbelievable data being given to her in paper form.

"I saw all of the file folders in her room because she was taking care of that physical data," he remembered. "We were both like: ‘There has got to be a better way to do this.'"

Van Dyk helped get Isaiah Crowell ready this summer for the fall. (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

Rush is one of the top social events of the fall at universities like Texas and Georgia – and sifting through hundreds of potential candidates is a monumental task when the data is not digitized.

As the Van Dyks sat with piles of paper in front of them they came up with a better way to handle rush, and that idea turned into a contest-winning business idea. The siblings developed an online rush system that national and even local fraternities and sororities can use to streamline the cumbersome process of rush – moving the decades-old event into the digital age.

"It takes all of the sorority and fraternity formal recruitment and puts it online," Van Dyk said of their concept. "It is a database that facilitates that whole process."

The name of the company is RushEase, and it is set to fully launch next year.

"It was very archaic and cumbersome," Katie remembered of the time she was forced to deal with folders and sheets of papers. "We just came up with the idea to just put the entire thing online."

The idea was so good that Van Dyk entered it into a competition at Georgia in the spring.

"Wes told me about the entrepreneurial competition at Georgia's business school, and we wanted to do it," Van Dyk's sister Katie said. "We entered, and ended up winning. From there it became very real."

Very real indeed.

Winning the University of Georgia's 2011 Next Top Entrepreneur competition came with an offer for $100,000 of funding from a venture capital company sponsoring the competition. Taking the money would have meant agreeing to a partnership with that company, but that didn't quite work out.

"After negotiating with the venture capital company – there are always terms – we respectfully declined their offer and have continued the process of raising capital through other venture capitalists in Dallas and in Atlanta," Van Dyk said.

NCAA bylaw 12.4.4 (Self-Employment) doesn't prohibit players like Van Dyk from getting compensated or even starting their own businesses, but it does make for a batch of red tape to cut through, which the senior did earlier this year. Still, Van Dyk has turned down all money coming from RushEase – reinvesting it into the company he guides.

Van Dyk's business idea won an award in the spring. (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

For the time being Van Dyk says he's focusing on football – with a keen eye on what will happen as soon as football ends this December.

"We are foregoing salaries in our first year to make sure there is enough in networking capital," he said. "We will have a full launch next fall. We are building the site right now. I will take that over full time in January."

All the while Van Dyk has been playing college football full time – stepping into a leadership role on the gridiron as well.

"Wes did a really nice job leading our running backs this summer," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "Richard Samuel, who came into the season as our starter, still wasn't a running back at that time. But Wes did a nice job of teaching Isaiah and some of those young guys what to do. Coach Richt rewarded him with a scholarship at the start of the season."

Van Dyk got his first action of the season at the end of the game during Georgia's 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina. His run – for one yard – was only the second of his career. Some would wonder if it is worth all of that work – practices in the spring, summer and fall – to have only two carries in his entire career at Georgia.

"I do think him sticking around shows how much he enjoys being here, and being around the guys," McClendon said. "Everyone loves Wes."

"He hardly sees the field, but he's there every day," Katie said of her brother. "Football has been very good for him. Challenges make you what you are."

The Dallas native originally enrolled at Georgia as a baseball player, but for one reason or another didn't find his way on the diamond. His next challenge was walking on the football team at Georgia – no simple task.

Three years later Van Dyk is one of the best examples of the so-called "student-athlete" the NCAA talks about. Make no mistake about it, Van Dyk is a capitalist, but unlike many running the world of college athletics, he seems to have a brain and a heart, too.

"Someone lost their wallet – and he tracked them down and got the wallet back to them," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "I think the person was from Florida. I don't know all of the details of it, but I did get a nice letter back from the gentleman who had lost the wallet. Him tracking the guy down – that's pretty neat… that's good for Georgia."

Van Dyk will graduate this winter from Georgia. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

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