For over 100 NFL players, interacting with former Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky has become commonplace.
Some know him as “Shaf.” Others simply call him “Nick.” Several have discovered him due to his status as the right-hand man of New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
When many players see the 6-foot-2-inch redhead from Whitehall, Pennsylvania, they know exactly who it is.
Shafnisky, ’17, is not an NFL player. He is not an agent. He does not work with any management companies.
He is his own boss. He has no structured salary, and does not spend time at a desk.
As a self-made athlete/talent manager, Shafnisky has developed a niche in the NFL as a jack-of-all-trades individual, determined to continue his love of football through athlete management.
Independent of pressures from a boss or agency, Shafnisky said he operates with solely the athlete’s interests in mind, aiming to help them in whatever area they need.
Whether it be organizing events, vetting agents for a player or simply recommending good places to eat in a city, Shafnisky has found a place in the NFL as an independent athlete manager.
Instead of prioritizing a paycheck, Shafnisky said he has been focusing on building up his credibility and reputation around the league as a guy who always has the athlete in mind.
“My mission is to be that jack-of-(all)-trades guy for NFL athletes.”
-Nick Shafnisky, ’17
Outside of brief stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Montreal Alouettes, Shafnisky said he was never able to make it professional in large part due to a lingering hip injury. Even still, he said he understands what it’s like to be an athlete.
“I started thinking about it and I was like, ‘If I was an NFL player, I don’t know who I’d turn to if my parents weren’t in a position to help me or if my parents didn’t understand what I was going through,’”Shafnisky said. “Basically, I wanted to put myself around the best people in their industry to help.”
Shafnisky said he will never be a lawyer, accountant or financial adviser, but he has equipped himself with a network of trusted and reputable individuals to refer NFL players to with whatever they may need.
He said while there are many others involved in athlete management, he doesn’t know anyone else doing the job solely with the athlete in mind without pressures from a management company.
“I could be charging these guys, but then I’m not doing it out of the goodness of my heart,” Shafnisky said. “Yes, everyone needs to make money, so I’ve found ways to do that — but my mission is to be that jack-of-(all)-trades guy for NFL athletes.”
Shafnisky said he owes the opportunity to Barkley, his childhood friend from Whitehall, who has helped put Shafnisky in a position to build up his brand in the NFL. Barkley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, has already established himself as a premier NFL player with the Giants.
Shafnisky said he and Barkley didn’t become close until late into middle school and early into high school, but their friendship began to blossom from there. He said Barkley would frequently visit him at Lehigh whenever Barkley was in Whitehall.
Whether it be football, late night workouts or social activities, Shafnisky said he and Barkley have become great friends, a friendship that has continued to this day, with Shafnisky consistently traveling and spending time with Barkley.
Shafnisky would travel with Barkley’s family during his final season at Penn State, occasionally helping him out before eventually signing with Barkley’s management company once he was in the NFL.
Shafnisky said he left Barkley’s management team in 2019 to become a full-time independent athlete-talent manager.
“I started feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere, (and) it wasn’t helping me to prosper,” Shafnisky said. “They weren’t allowing me to be hands on with any projects or teach me anything. So, rather than having a guy tell me I have to do this, this and this, and really not seeing any benefit to it except being paid, I feel like I was being pushed under the rug. I wanted to expand from there.”
After becoming independent, Barkley helped Shafnisky sign his first client: New York Giants Kicker Aldrick Rosas.
Shafnisky’s brand and reputation has continued to grow from there, now interacting with over 100 NFL players. All of the clients he works with most closely have been from the Giants organization thus far, he said.
Shafnisky lived with Rosas this past year in Clifton, New Jersey, fully immersing himself in his new entrepreneurial role.
“He basically gave me the opportunity to really start managing him,” Shafnisky said. “Meaning anything he did off the field, marketing-wise or management-wise, my name had to be signed with him. It was a (really) cool experience, obviously, working with Saquan (Barkley) and building up credibility. Aldrick (Rosas) gave me the opportunity.”
Shafnisky said some of his work with Rosas consists of organizing events for him to participate in at Boys and Girls Clubs, helping him start a program for inner-city youths around New Jersey or helping him start a clothing line.
Shafnisky said with the coronavirus pandemic, some of what he can do in terms of organizing events is limited, but he has found other ways to continue to help NFL athletes.
Recently, he helped set up Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds with professional gamers to play the video game Call of Duty with them once a week. Edmonds then referred Shafnisky to Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen and Arizona Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk to do the same.
Scott Brisson, Lehigh’s offensive coordinator, said he is not at all surprised by Shafnisky’s career path, describing him as someone people want to be around.
Brisson, who was the wide receivers coach during Shafnisky’s sophomore through senior seasons, said Shafnisky fits in football.
“I could’ve seen him being a coach, but I think what he’s doing is perfect for him,” Brisson said. “He’s a leader. People are naturally drawn to him, he’s got a personality (and) he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. He’s not star-struck by any situation or person. It’s not like getting around some of the people he’s been around. He’s not a fan. He just sees them as people, and I think that’s served him well.
Brisson said Shafnisky is one of his favorite players he has had the opportunity to coach.
Brisson, like former Lehigh offensive coordinator Drew Folmar, said Shafnisky is a natural leader. Folmar is now the associate head coach at Elon University.
“I really enjoyed him, I enjoyed coaching him, (and) I enjoyed being around him,” Folmar said. “He has a great personality, infectious personality, and he cares about people — he cared about our team — and all the things you want in a quarterback and the leader of your program.”
Brisson said when Shafnisky was a senior and injured prior to an important game against Holy Cross, he told Brisson and Folmar he could play if they wanted him to, but he said it in such a way that the coaches interpreted it as him suggesting to start backup quarterback Brad Mayes, ’19.
Mayes came in and had a strong game as a passer, leading Lehigh to a convincing win, something that may not have been as easy if an injured Shafnisky made a selfish decision to not let his backup play for fear of losing his job, Brisson said.
“There’s not a lot of kids that would do that and think that way, to take a step back and do what’s actually best for the team and have enough confidence in themselves that they’ll be fine,” Brisson said.
Whereas some of his classmates may be working strenuous hours in hopes of having more enjoyment in the future, Brisson said the 25-year-old Shafnisky is already doing something he loves.
In addition to his work as an athlete/talent manager, Shafnisky has already started a hot sauce company with a former Lehigh classmate and aims to continue building businesses himself or with NFL players like Barkley.
Down the line, Shafnisky said it is one of his goals to help players with investment deals, such as how Kobe Bryant turned a $6 million-investment in BodyArmor Sports into $200 million in just three years.
“That would make me the most proud — to be able to give (them) that generational wealth, to give (them) that unique niche that you took a company from here at the startup stage,” Shafnisky said.
For now, Shafnisky said he is aiming to continue to build his reputation and credibility within the NFL community each day.
“I don’t even think he has reached his full potential in what he is going to achieve,” Folmar said. “I can’t even imagine what he’s going to achieve. He will be successful in whatever he sets his mind to.”